ASCL Seminar: The State in Relief: civil servants navigating duties, dependencies and disasters in Malawi

Malawi is a donor-dependent country in southern Africa, at the forefront of experiencing the intensifying impacts of climate change. This talk by Dr Tanja Hendriks (KU Leuven) focuses on the everyday practices of civil servants in disaster relief interventions in Malawi, to show how the state is central to disaster governance despite its lack of resources and actual capacity to deal with them. Operating at the heart of the humanitarian-development nexus, the Malawi government Department of Disaster Management Affairs (DODMA) is responsible for the coordination of both ad hoc responses to disasters and more long-term, recurring humanitarian interventions, both of which frequently take place. Based on ethnographic fieldwork conducted in the aftermath of Cyclone Idai (2019), Cyclone Freddy (2023) and an El Ni┼ło-induced drought (2024), Dr Hendriks zooms in on different characteristics of disaster governance, detailing how DODMA civil servants navigated the numerous demands placed on them by colleagues, citizens, chiefs and (international) collaborators alike as they attempted to fulfill their duties in a context of dependencies and destitution. Conceptualising the state as instantiated relationally, Hendriks argues that these relief interventions throw the state itself into relief, rendering visible civil servants’ sense of duty while simultaneously highlighting what it is up against.

This event takes places in Leiden in person. For registrees who cannot travel to Leiden a link to an online platform will be sent one day before the start of the event.

Photo credits: Tanja Hendriks.

Dr Tanja D. Hendriks is an FWO-funded postdoctoral research fellow at KU Leuven in Belgium where she runs her research project entitled ‘Duty and Diligence in Disasters: civil servants and the climate change crisis in Malawi’. She is a fellow at the African Studies Centre, Leiden University, and at the Centre for Social Research, a research arm of the School of Humanities and Social Sciences at the University of Malawi. Her main research interests are in the anthropology of the state, bureaucracy, development and disasters. Her recent work has been published in the International Journal of Disaster Risk Reduction, Etnofoor and Cambridge Journal of Anthropology.


Date, time and location

05 September 2024
16.00 - 17.30
Herta Mohrgebouw / Faculty of Humanities, Witte Singel 27a, 2311 BG Leiden
Room 0.31