In This Review

Imagining the Congo: The International Relations of Identity
Imagining the Congo: The International Relations of Identity
By Kevin C. Dunn
Palgrave Macmillan, 2003, 228 pp

Are we just who we are, or do others' biased perceptions "construct" us, preconditioning our relationships with outsiders and limiting our capacity to fashion and assert a healthy self-image? Following in the footsteps of Antonio Gramsci, Edward Said, and their many disciples, Dunn explores how Westerners since the nineteenth century have defined a large swath of central Africa as a mysterious "heart of darkness" occupied by irrational and childlike people for whom chaos and barbarism are the norm. The violent fragmentation, predatory external interventions, and international neglect that afflict today's Democratic Republic of the Congo, he suggests, can be directly traced back to these past negative stereotypes ("imaginings"). Efforts by some Congolese leaders and intellectuals to project more positive counterimages of their country since its independence in 1960 have largely been thwarted by their difficulty in getting the world's attention ("accessing discursive space"). Although he slightly overstates his case, Dunn succeeds in subjecting these propositions to a searching, interesting, and well-argued analysis that challenges overly simple understandings of international relations.