Eric Trovalla


  • erc
  • research funding
  • research support


The Materiality of Suspicion

After years of recurring violent conflicts, everyday life in the Nigerian city of Jos is shaped by a pervading sense of diffuse danger. There is a general preparedness among people that somewhere out there, someone is looking to deceive them, defraud them, take advantage of them, or even kill them. Although suspicion is sometimes expressed through narratives, conspiracy theories, etc, it is often rooted in vague, vaporous feelings, an underlying anxiety or existential uncertainty that is difficult to express verbally. It can be described as a mood, an atmosphere that attaches to, and absorbs, experiences. The project studies how suspicion connects to our dealings with the material world, especially, how it seems to thrive in the uncanny moments when the familiar emerges as a site of ambiguity – when things and experiences that induce normalcy, security or monotony, simultaneously provoke doubts regarding the true nature of objects, people, and relationships.

The research is part of the research project ‘Suspicious Materialities: Egyptian and Nigerian cityscapes’, financed by FORMAS.

Infrastructure as a Divination Device – Urban Life in Nigeria

In the Nigerian city of Jos, everyday life is shaped by interlacing rhythms of disconnection and reconnection. Petrol, electricity, water, etc., come and go, and in order to gain access inhabitants constantly try to discern the logics behind these fluctuations. However, the unpredictable infrastructure also becomes a system of signs through which residents try to understand issues beyond those immediately at hand. Signals, pipes, wires and roads link individuals to larger wholes, and the character of these connections informs and transforms experiences of the social world. Not only an object, but also a means of divination, infrastructure is a harbinger of truths about elusive and mutable social entities—neighbourhoods, cities, nations and beyond. Through the materiality of infrastructure, its flows and glitches carefully read by the inhabitants, an increasingly disjointed city emerges. Through new experiences of differentiated modes of connectedness—of no longer sharing the same roads, pipes, electricity lines, etc.—narratives are formed around lost common trajectories. By focusing on how wires, pipes and roads are turned into a divination system— how the inhabitants of Jos try to divine the city’s infrastructure and possible ways forward, as well as how they try, through the infrastructure, to predict a city, a nation and a world beyond—this project strives to find ways to grasp a thickness of urban becomings—a cityness on the move according to its own unique logic.

The research was financed by a grant from the Swedish Research Council.


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Eric Trovalla