Abstract spaces for intervention in Libya and Nigeria

Debora Malito*, Muhamad, Dan Suleiman

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


How is the space for contemporary interventions constructed? This article deepens our understanding of counterterrorism as a dialectical form of intervention by illustrating how unifying rationalities are crucial to the making of “ungoverned spaces” as abstract spaces for intervention purposes. We combine dialectical and decolonial thinking to track how unifying rationales are deployed across cognitive, normative, and operational constructions in the production of such abstraction in Nigeria and Libya. The article traces how interventions in the present are cognitively intertwined with a coloniality of knowing, being and power that instrumentalizes identity, religion, or societal divisions to explain ungovernance and to normalize state and foreign violence. Abstract spaces for counterterrorism purposes are supported by concomitant and reciprocal globalization of local security concerns and localization of global security predicaments. Empirically, our analysis shows how the cognitive production presenting Libya and Nigeria as sites of ungovernability creates a void of meaning which gives external, international actors the normative responsibility for recovering governance and for protecting human security, modernity, and civility. Operationally, in Libya, competing authorities have contributed to normalizing a wider spectre of violence, often internalized and instrumentalized by competing actors though their own normative tropes. While in the case of Nigeria, state interventionism and counterinsurgency in collusion with foreign counterterrorism have been responsible for deploying massive use of violence against entire communities.
Original languageEnglish
JournalInternational Studies Quarterly
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 22 Aug 2023


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