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Robin Turner, Ph.D.

Butler University

Phone: 3179408559

Address: 4600 Sunset Ave

City: Indianapolis, Indiana - 46208

Country: United States

About Me:

I am an associate professor of political science at Butler University in Indianapolis, Indiana and visiting research associate of the Society, Work, and Development Institute (SWOP) at the University of the Witswatersrand. I earned a doctorate in political science at the University of California, Berkeley, a masters degree in social science (African politics) from the University of Cape Town in South Africa, and a bachelor's degree in public policy studies and certificate in women's studies from Duke University.

My research focuses principally on state-society relations, political economy, and representation in southern Africa. I use interviews, ethnography, archival research, and surveys to examine the interplay between state policies and local practices over time; to look closely at how past and present ways of structuring property and authority shape local political economies and influence constructions of identity; and to examine how traditional leaders represent their citizen-subjects..

Research Interests

African Politics

Comparative Political Institutions

Political Economy

Countries of Interest

South Africa



Journal Articles:

(2016) Lasting Legacies: Contemporary Struggles and Historical Dispossession in South Africa, Comparative Studies of South Asia Africa and the Middle East

Contemporary postapartheid South African land struggles are haunted by the long shadow of historical dispossession. While apartheid-era forced removals are justifiably infamous, these traumatic events were moments in the more extended, less frequently referenced, and more expansive process that fundamentally shaped the South African terrain well before 1948. The South African Republic's mid-nineteenth-century assertion of ownership of all land north of the Vaal River and south of the Limpopo marked the start of a long process of racialized dispossession that rendered black people's residence in putatively white areas highly contingent and insecure throughout the former Transvaal. This article analyzes the connections between past dispossession and contemporary rural land and natural resource struggles in the Limpopo and North West provinces, contending that addressing South Africa's vexed present requires a fuller reckoning with its past.

(2015) Youth, ‘Tradition,’ and Peace Building: Mobilizing for Just Governance in Rural South Africa, Peacebuilding

Structural violence remains widespread in post-apartheid South Africa as governance, opportunity and well-being are still sharply inflected by place, by race and by class. Most rural black South Africans are subject to state-recognised traditional leaders and institutions imbricated in past violence, suffer from inadequate and inequitable basic service provision, and have little access to economic opportunity. This article enriches our understanding of the everyday politics of peace by examining a youth-led mobilisation in the rural traditional community of Supingstad. Modelling new ways of interacting and confronting the fears that prevented many from participating in public life, youth activists sought to build a better, more democratic, collective life; to improve public service provision; to generate economic development and to practice the open and accountable governance they desired. This local initiative to address the multiple forms of violence to which South Africans are still subject exemplifies youth peace praxis.

(2014) Traditional, Democratic, Accountable? Navigating Citizen-Subjection in Rural South Africa, Africa Spectrum

Nearly two decades after South Africa’s democratization, questions of tradition and accountability continue to trouble the polity as more than 14 million black South Africans remain subject to state-recognized, so-called “traditional” leaders – kings, queens, chiefs and regents. This article deepens our understanding of contemporary governance by exploring the agency of these citizen-subjects through close examination of traditional leaders’ strategies and citizen-subjects’ mobilizations in four rural localities. These cases illustrate how citizen-subjects are working with, against and through traditional leaders and councils, hybrid organizations and independent groups to pursue community development and effective, accountable governance, and show how the present governance framework enables traditional leaders to block or undermine collective initiatives. In drawing attention to citizen-subjects’ agency and their difficulties in holding traditional leaders accountable, this analysis of contemporary traditional governance underscores the need for further democratizing reforms.

(2013) Land Restitution, Traditional Leadership, and Belonging: Defining Barokologadi Identity, Journal of Modern African Studies

How do government policies and practices affect struggles over collective identity and struggles over land? Examining the interconnections among collective identity struggles, land struggles and state policies and practices in post-apartheid South Africa, this paper argues that the government's contradictory policies and ambivalent practices have aggravated collective struggles over the boundaries of belonging. Specifically, the differing definitions of community set forth in traditional leadership, land tenure and land restitution policies exacerbate existing divisions among ‘communities’ concurrently subject to these policies and create practical policy dilemmas for decision-makers. This paper illustrates the interplay between public policies and collective identity struggles through close examination of struggles among the Barokologadi ba ga Maotwe, a so-called traditional community. The Barokologadi case underscores the necessity of attending to these interactions.

(2010) Does Patronage Still Drive Politics for the Rural Poor in the Developing World? A Comparative Perspective from the Livestock Sector, Development and Change

Is the analysis of patron–client networks still important to the understanding of developing country politics or has it now been overtaken by a focus on ‘social capital’? Drawing on seventeen country studies of the political environment for livestock policy in poor countries, this article concludes that although the nature of patronage has changed significantly, it remains highly relevant to the ways peasant interests are treated. Peasant populations were found either to have no clear connection to their political leaders or to be controlled by political clientage. Furthermore, communities ‘free’ of patron–client ties to the centre generally are not better represented by political associations but instead receive fewer benefits from the state. Nonetheless, patterns of clientage are different from what they were forty years ago. First, patronage chains today often have a global reach, through trade, bilateral donor governments and international NGOs. Second, the resources that fuel political clientage today are less monopolistic and less adequate to the task of purchasing peasant political loyalty. Thus the bonds of patronage are less tight than they were historically. Third, it follows from the preceding point and the greater diversity of patrons operating today that elite conflicts are much more likely to create spaces in which peasant interests can eventually be aggregated into autonomous associations with independent political significance in the national polity. NGOs are playing an important role in opening up this political space although at the moment, they most often act like a new type of patron. With David K. Leonard, Jennifer Brass, Michael Nelson, Sophal Ear, Dan Fahey, Tasha Fairfield, Martha Johnson Gning, Michael Halderman, Brendan McSherry, Devra Coren Moehler, Wilson Prichard, Tuong Vu, and Jeroen Dijkman

(2006) Communities, Wildlife Conservation, and Tourism-based Development: Can Community-based Nature Tourism Live Up to Its Promise?, Journal of International Wildlife Law and Policy

This paper analyzes the opportunities and tensions generated by efforts to use conservationbased tourism as a catalyst for economic development. By exploring how historical legacies position actors and influence relationships between them, characterizing the nature tourism sector and its logic, and examining how liberalizing states are likely to engage with community-based tourism. I situate community-based nature tourism ventures in a broader political economic context. The paper draws from research on the Makuleke Region of Kruger National Park, South Africa to illustrate how these factors influence prospects for community benefit from protected area tourism. Like many other protected areas in Africa, contemporary dynamics in the Makuleke Region are a product of dispossession, forced removal, and conservation. The Makuleke, who consider the land their ancestral home, were forcibly removed in the late 1960s so that the land could be incorporated into Kruger National Park. They regained title in 1998, and have subsequently pursued economic development through conservation. While comanaging the Region with SANParks, the parastatal that manages all national protected areas, the Makuleke have sought to develop a tourism initiative that will produce economic self reliance and development. In adopting this strategy, the Makuleke are engaging with local, national, and international political economies over which community actors have limited room for maneuver. This case brings three factors to light. First, the legacy of fortress conservation may make it more difficult for community actors to engage with their partners on an equal basis. Second, sectoral attributes of tourism pose special challenges to community based natural resource management initiatives; it is not clear that tourism projects will produce substantial benefits. Third, the coincidence of the shift to community based natural resource management with liberalization and democratization has altered the landscape on which all conservation efforts are situated. The confluence of these factors has created an environment in which state protected areas, community controlled conservation areas, and private game parks are competing for domestic and international tourist revenue. While nature tourism ventures hold substantial economic promise for some communities, tourism is not a panacea. Actors engaged in community based natural resource management initiatives should carefully assess the risks, challenges, and opportunities posed by tourism ventures.

Book Chapters:

(2015) Peace-building without Western Saviors? An Approach to Teaching African Gender and Sexuality Politics to American students., Lexington Books

American college students often enter Africa-focused courses with the belief that African women, transgender people, and same-gender-loving people are particularly oppressed. Western media coverage of homophobic speeches and actions, of sexual violence, and of female genital cutting on the African continent has led many caring students sympathetic to the narrative that Africans are in sore need of rescue by Westerners like themselves. This chapter will describe my efforts to complicate these perceptions in an upper-level seminar on African gender and sexuality politics. Through facilitating collective engagement with texts that present varying constructions of African genders and sexualities, analyze differing political dynamics, and describe African initiatives challenging epistemic, structural, and physical violence, this course sought to deepen students’ understanding of gender and sexuality politics, to encourage them to critically engage with Western representations of other places, and to enable them to contribute to collaborative peace-building efforts.

Book Reviews:

(2014) Review of The Wrong Complexion for Protection, Perspectives on Politics

A review of The Wrong Complexion for Protection: How The Government Response to Disaster Endangers African-American Communities. By Robert D. Bullard and Beverly Wright. New York: New York University Press, 2012