• 258 pages
  • 6 x 9
  • Price: $70.50
  • EAN: 9781439912706
  • Publication: Jan 2016
  • Price: $36.00
  • EAN: 9781439912720
  • Publication: Jan 2016

The Struggling State

Nationalism, Mass Militarization, and the Education of Eritrea

Jennifer Riggan
  • Honorable Mention for the 2018 Jackie Kirk Outstanding Book Award from The Comparative and International Education Society

A 2003 law in Eritrea, a notoriously closed-off, heavily militarized, and authoritarian country, mandated an additional year of school for all children and stipulated that the classes be held at Sawa, the nation’s military training center. As a result, educational institutions were directly implicated in the making of soldiers, putting Eritrean teachers in the untenable position of having to navigate between their devotion to educating the nation and their discontent with their role in the government program of mass militarization.

In her provocative ethnography, The Struggling State, Jennifer Riggan examines the contradictions of state power as simultaneously oppressive to and enacted by teachers. Riggan, who conducted participant observation with teachers in and out of schools, explores the tenuous hyphen between nation and state under lived conditions of everyday authoritarianism.

The Struggling State shows how the hopes of Eritrean teachers and students for the future of their nation have turned to a hopelessness in which they cannot imagine a future at all.


"The Struggling State makes important connections between schools as public institutions that create citizens and processes of militarization that similarly construct national subjects and define their relationship to the state. Riggan explores the role of public education and contests over the purposes that intellectual training should serve. A significant and interesting contribution, this ethnography provides a glimpse of everyday realities usually hidden behind official statements and national propaganda of the ruling party or behind the alarming summary reports of Human Rights Watch and other non-governmental organizations."
Victoria Bernal, Professor of Anthropology at the University of California, Irvine

"The Struggling State is a fascinating long-term and in-depth study of the work and perceptions of public school teachers in Eritrea. Riggan has a solid understanding of the complex historical, political, and social context. Writing from a unique perspective, she digs deep into not only the role of teachers in this process but also their perception of themselves as citizens, as leaders, and as guardians of the values of the nation (not necessarily the state). Riggan’s methodology and detailed discussions of how the state has used militarization and education to foment the twin ideas of Eritrean exceptionalism and the merit of martyrdom make this book stand out."
Pamela DeLargy, Office of the UN Special Representative for Migration

"(F)resh and insightful... Riggan's fine-grained accounts of fieldwork...provide important insights into the effects of state power and how authoritarianism functions in post-liberation states.... An important contribution to Eritrean studies, Riggan’s study offers the sort of nuance and detail that is rare in Eritrean studies post-2001, but which, for that reason, is all the more needed.... It deserves a wide audience."
African Conflict & Peacebuilding Review

" Riggan critically analyses the Eritrean governments’ policy of societal militarisation and its impact on educational sector.... I am highly impressed by Riggan’s in-depth analysis and her detailed insights concerning the authoritarian state and its violent and punitive character. Her study illustrates how the introduction of indefinite national service has negatively affected education, social capital formation and the nation-building and development processes. Riggan shows a high level of scholarship and thorough knowledge of her subject matter.... I highly recommend this book as a testimony of a critical juncture in Eritrea’s troubled history."
Journal of Modern African Studies

"The Struggling State ... provides excellent nuances on contemporary realities of the youth and the education system in Eritrea... (A) valuable addition to the body of critical literature about governance and politics in Eritrea. It provides a vivid depiction of the lived experience...and the school system that has not been given due attention despite its relevance.... The book also adds vital insights for those who seek to understand complex factors that are the driving forces behind the mass exodus of Eritrean youth, and how they are denied the agencies of their bodies, time and free thinking."
PEN Eritrea

" (Riggan) has detailed knowledge about her setting from an insider’s perspective...which is a great strength of the book.... Riggan successfully captures in vivid detail the politicization of everyday life... The book, thus, makes an important contribution to the study of Eritrean nationalism and its discontents, and the way Riggan weaves her own personal history with Eritrea and Eritreans into her narrative without being outright judgmental makes it even more valuable. Its ethnographic content is of particular value for advancing the study of Eritrean nationalism and how it relates to the statemaking project of its ruling elite, in particular in relation to the definition of national duty.... (Riggan) provides an important glimpse into patterns of compliance and resistance in a highly authoritarian and often oppressive political environment."
Anthropological Quarterly

"This book provides a good vantage point to understanding the internal workings of what is probably the most secretive, heavily militarized, and authoritarian state in the world.... (T)he author presents a revealing discussion on the other forms of PFDJ's (People's Front for Democracy and Justice) struggles including those to produce loyal national subjects, to reproduce and objectify itself, and to achieve institutional coherence.... A major strength of the book is the author's judicious use of participant observation to make connections between schools as public institutions that are responsible for producing educated citizens and processes of militarization that similarly construct national subjects and define their relationship to the state. The author provides a rich description of her entry into the country from its margins, her interviews, and lived experiences as a teacher, a peace corps volunteer, and even her intimate relationship with an Eritrean teacher. Her detailed account of teachers' daily experiences in and out of public schools enabled her to shed light on seemingly complex issues like the emergence of authoritarianism, nation and state, asserting the power of ethnographic research."
African Studies Quarterly

"(Riggan) provides... unique insights into not only Eritrean state actions and pathologies but, more significantly, how ordinary Eritreans experience and understand these..... The Struggling State unpacks the deeply complex and often painful relationships Eritrean teachers and students have with a state which since the late 1990s has become increasingly militarized and punishing.... The Struggling State underscore(s) in many respects, the dilemmas of state-building faced by many post-liberation governments in Africa since the 1990s." —African Affairs

"Riggan’s engaging and compassionate ethnography The Struggling State provides a fascinating insight into the role of Eritrean teachers following the 2000–2002 war with Ethiopia.... The wealth of material collected is palpable, and the voices of teachers and students, including verbatim accounts of classroom interactions, are woven throughout the book.... Riggan writes with nuance and integrity, not least as she refuses to obfuscate the intimacy between scholar and subject." — African Studies Review

About the Author(s)

Jennifer Riggan is Associate Professor of International Studies in the Department of Historical and Political Studies at Arcadia University.