Humor, Silence, and Civil Society in Nigeria

In This Review

Humor, Silence, and Civil Society in Nigeria
By Ebenezer Obadare
University of Rochester Press, 2016
188 pp.

Dissatisfied with the increasing tendency of scholars to reduce the meaning of “civil society” to the activities of nongovernmental organizations, Obadare argues that the everyday discourse of Nigerians produces the kind of political effects—including resistance to the state’s authority and demands for accountability—that political scientists usually ascribe only to more institutional forms of civil society. Obadare contributes to the debate about what counts as civil society by making a compelling case that “associating is not undertaken by associations alone”: it also results from ordinary social life. His book is at its best when it brings his argument to life by cataloging and analyzing the witty stories, jokes, and wordplay that Nigerians employ to mock powerful politicians and government institutions. Public discourse undoubtedly shapes Nigerians’ attitudes toward their government, but it’s unclear whether it truly promotes state responsiveness, as Obadare maintains, or whether it mostly just palliates mass discontent.

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