"Having spent time among the militias of Sierra Leone and Liberia during those countries' civil wars, Hoffman contends that, across West Africa (and in countries even further afield), a range of social structures have evolved to make young people available for 'violent labour' both on the battlefield and in the region's extractive industries." - Survival: Global Politics and Strategy, August 2012 "A strikingly original account of a West African war-scape, here translated into memorable prose and sophisticated theory. As much a zone of labor and extraction as of war-making, this landscape of fluid and fungible identities forces us to think Sierra Leone and Liberia, Danny Hoffman provokes, as a laboratory of the future. This brilliant book will be widely read and debated." Charles Piot, author of Nostalgia for the Future: West Africa after the Cold War "In today's African worlds people have to constantly come up with new stories in order to access livelihood and opportunity; stories about how they are to be seen or slip under the radar, how to be part of a larger world. In this account of young men and women fighters in West Africa, Danny Hoffman demonstrates that armed conflict is an opportunity for the young to work. It is work that attempts to be contemporaneous with what is perceived as the 'real global world', to go beyond the constrictions of state, culture, and society. Even if these attempts are eventually folded into becoming instruments of narrow agendas or the prevailing logics of capitalist administration and value, they remain striving to live in new ways. Hoffman, with great courage and hard work, has engaged the complexity of such conflict, making it count for something--the entanglement of brutality and hope." AbdouMaliq Simone, author of For the City Yet to Come: Changing African Life in Four Cities
In The War Machines, Danny Hoffman considers how young men are made available for violent labor both on the battlefields and in the diamond mines, rubber plantations, and other unregulated industries of West Africa. Based on his ethnographic research with militia groups in Sierra Leone and Liberia during those countries’ recent civil wars, Hoffman traces the path of young fighters who moved from grassroots community-defense organizations in Sierra Leone during the mid-1990s into a large pool of mercenary labor.
Hoffman argues that in contemporary West Africa, space, sociality, and life itself are organized around making young men available for all manner of dangerous work. Drawing on his ethnographic research over the past nine years, as well as the anthropology of violence, interdisciplinary security studies, and contemporary critical theory, he maintains that the mobilization of West African men exemplifies a global trend in the outsourcing of warfare and security operations. A similar dynamic underlies the political economy of violence in Iraq, Afghanistan, and a growing number of postcolonial spaces. An experienced photojournalist, Hoffman integrates more than fifty of his photographs of young West Africans into The War Machines.