Examining Eritrean teachers' paradoxical role of educating students forced into the military
The Struggling State
Nationalism, Mass Militarization, and the Education of Eritrea
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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.
"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."
"(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."
"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"
"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."
"(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."
Jennifer Riggan is Associate Professor of International Studies in the Department of Historical and Political Studies at Arcadia University.