Neither Palaces nor Prisons: The Constitution of Order among the Nuer

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"This dissertation is an effort to explain the constitution of order among the Nuer as an acephalous society. Theoretical formulations best represented by Alexis de Tocqueville's Democracy In America have demonstrated how principles of self-governance can be used to constitute societies that do not rely upon a single headship. In the process of unravelling the context in which regulatory ideas marshall activities and yield an orderly way of life among the Nuer, the dissertation first describes the environmental conditions that provide the setting and the structure of opportunities in which the Nuer sustain themselves. Second, the study explores the Nuer conceptualization of their universe, where the conception of God {kuoth) as the source of creation is fundamental to the understanding of the institutional arrangements among the Nuer. On the basis of the belief in God and the concept of law, the Nuer develop their system of order which recognizes multiple agents with limited jurisdiction that can be called upon to resolve conflicts and take leadership when the need arises. Political processes involve diverse intermediaries whose task is to resolve conflicts or breaches of covenant where someone has offended against what is presumed to be right. "Separate chapters are concerned with the constitution of family and kin relationships, village life, cattle camps, the organization of defense and security, processes of conflict and conflict resolution, and the challenges posed by British imperialism and the constitutional commitments of the Government of Sudan to Islam and the Arabs' way of life. These challenges pose difficulties for a people who rely upon a covenantal way of life. How these may be resolved eventually turns upon whether autocephalous societies or acephalous societies are at greater risk."



Nuer (African people), indigenous institutions, village organization, self-governance, Workshop