Dr Steven Pierce - Research
I am a specialist in sub-Saharan Africa, and my research centers in and around the city of Kano in northern Nigeria, focusing on issues of law, politics, colonialism, social theory, gender, and semiotics.
My first book, Farmers and the State in Colonial Kano: Land Tenure and the Legal Imagination (Indiana University Press, 2005) is a study of the colonial government of northern Nigeria, looking at the way in which rights in land became the primary idiom for governing small-scale farmers. I spent the 2010-11 academic year as a member of the School of Social Science at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey. During that time I wrote the manuscript of a new book, tentatively entitled A Moral Economy of Corruption: State Formation and Political Culture in Northern Nigeria.
My new research examines the politics of shari'a criminal law in colonial and postcolonial northern Nigeria. It concentrates on three periods in which Nigerian shari'a came to national and international attention: from 1900-1933, when flogging regularly caused international scandals; from 1948-1959, when capital cases of homicide proved a potent issue in nationalist politics and the shari'a courts lost criminal jurisdiction; and since 1999, when the courts regained jurisdiction. The book emerging from the research will examine the ways in which Islamic criminal law has been increasingly politicized, functioning across the century to define political communities and to determine the contours of state and communal violence.
An essay emerging from this research appeared in a book I edited in collaboration with Dr Anupama Rao of Barnard College, Columbia University, entitled Discipline and the Other Body: Correction, Corporeality, Colonialism, which was published by Duke University Press in 2006. The volume examines the relationship between bodily violence and categories of difference such as race, religion, and gender, tracing the intimate relationship between strategies of governance and often-intertwined discourses of humanitarianism and bigotry. Dr Rao and I continue our collaboration with a new project on the history of humanitarianism and human rights. My collaboration with Dr Rao intersects with other collaborations for which I am currently applying for funding.
I have a strong interest in gender issues and continue to publish a series of journal articles on the topic.