Florence Bernault

Full professor
African History , African Cultures, Colonialism


Before coming to Sciences Po, Florence Bernault served as Professor of African History at the Department of History at the University of Madison-Wisconsin (1996-2018). 

Her research on the political and cultural history of Central Africa focuses on historical dynamics that crossed over African and European societies (penal regimes, electoral systems, social understandings of the realm of the material and the intangible). Her research is heavily influenced by anthropology; it combines archival sources with fieldwork, and often reconstructs past processes to understand contemporary issues.

Her first book, Démocraties ambiguës en Afrique centrale (Karthala, 1996), investigated the cross-racial organizing of political parties and elections in the 1940s and 1960s in Congo-Brazzaville and Gabon, and the emergence of new political repertoires and ethnic imaginaries in the region.

Her second book (edited), Enfermement, prisons et châtiments en Afrique (Karthala, 1999), translated and revised in English as A History of Prisons and Confinement in Africa (Heineman 2003), participated in reviving prisons studies in Africa. The book studied the colonial origin of modern carceral regimes, and their re-appropriations by African societies.

Her second monograph, Colonial Transactions, was recently published by Duke University Press (2019). The book historicizes the notion of witchcraft, power and puissance in Gabon, and proposes to analyze social and economic relations in terms of transactions. It also highlights how the existence of congruent imaginaries of power among Europeans and Africans forces us to rethink the mechanisms of colonial domination.

Her current research project, entitled Global Intimacy and the Double Life of Objects, looks at particular objects in Africa (medicaments, money, charms) in order to understand how they fostered the emergence of new subjectivities across racial, cultural and geographic barriers. The project also wants to revisit some of the heuristic devices currently used to analyze value and exchange.

A former student at the Ecole Normale Supérieure (St-Cloud), and a recipient of agrégation d'histoire, Florence Bernault's research has been recognized by several grants, including a Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship (2001) and a Netherlands Institute of Advanced Studies Fellowship (2013-2014). She writes regularly on contemporary events in Central Africa (The Conversation).

Last Publications

CV (PDF, 227 Ko)

Focus Area and Themes

Experiences | Social actors, Movements, & Groups

Last Publications

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