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The Materiality of Suspicion and the Ambiguity of the Familiar - Nigerian and Egyptian Cityscapes

Funding agency: FORMAS. Duration: 2017-2021

Top down, modernization-driven paradigms as long employed by international donor and development organizations such as the World Bank, USAID, UNITAR, the African Development Bank, the Millennium Development Goals, and similar agencies and discourses of development, are today understood as limited in their incapability of delivering the innovative programmes and solutions needed to achieve gender equality, youth employment and empowerment, and other pressing issues.

The research is based on a shared observation from a decade of fieldwork in Cairo and Port Said in Egypt and Jos and Port Harcourt in Nigeria: that suspicion thrives when the familiar sphere is infused with ambiguity; when things and experiences that induce normalcy, security or monotony, simultaneously project fear and vulnerability.

Is the meat I am buying part of a plan to poison me? Is the call to prayer that sounds over my neighborhood a signal to riot, kill, and plunder?

Taking its starting point in how the ambiguity of familiar materialities fundamentally alters human relations and actions, this project places suspicion at the heart of urban life. In so doing, it produces new perspectives on the complex interaction between materiality, affective politics and suspicion.

Furthermore, by focusing on how suspicion informs and shapes the manner in which the inhabitants of these cities face these challenges, this inter-disciplinary project ultimately strives to produce policy-relevant knowledge not merely about Nigeria and Egypt, but the cultural and political dynamics of post-colonial Africa as a whole.


  • This project breaks new ground into the analysis of suspicion as well as into the development and policy domain.
  • The project takes its starting point in materiality - how uneasy notions of things not being what they appear, and of concealed malevolent intent, become imbued in the material world. Once manifested in the physical world, these sentiments become graspable, at the level of everyday life as well as academic enquiry.

Research Team

Maria Malmström, CMES Researcher (Lund University)

maria [dot] malmstrom [at] cme [dot] lu [dot] se

Mark Levine, CMES Researcher (Lund University)

mark [dot] levine [at] cme [dot] lu [dot] se

Ulrika Trovalla, Researcher at the Department of Cultural Anthropology and Ethnology, Uppsala University

ulrika [dot] trovalla [at] antro [dot] uu [dot] se

Eric Trovalla, Researcher at the Department of Cultural Anthropology and Ethnology, Uppsala University

eric [dot] trovalla [at] etnologi [dot] uu [dot] se

Tahrir square. Picture

Photo: Maria Frederika Malmström