Introduction and Overview to the Special Issue on Africa’s Moral and Affective Economy

by Goran Hyden


The purpose of this special issue is to allow a better insight and appreciation of Japanese scholarship on Africa. Japanese academics interested in Africa have been actively studying various aspects of African rural life. Agricultural economists have focused on the production side while anthropologists have taken a special interest in the social and cultural side of rural life. Although not exclusive to Kyoto University, the center for Africanist research in Japan has been concentrated to this old and venerable institution of higher learning in what was once the capital of Japan. Understandably, the Japanese have published their work first and foremost in Japanese. Their body of knowledge about Africa is contained in monographs, edited volumes, and journals published locally.

Those of us who have been fortunate to work and interact with Japanese Africanists are aware of the interesting empirical work that they are doing. This special issue contains seven separate contributions that showcase Japanese studies of Africa. The various authors have different disciplinary backgrounds but they are all sharing a cross-disciplinary perspective on the continent. Some are senior academics who have done research in Africa for many years while others are doctoral students still in the process of finishing their degrees.

The general theme of their work is “things African.” They are interested in indigenous values and institutions and how they fare in the context of increased exposure to external forces. Their work is theoretically and conceptually located in the moral and affective economy sphere with its focus on informal institutions and practices. In addition to my own work on the economy of affection these authors have taken their lead from the research on the moral economy in Southeast Asia by James Scott.

The conclusion that can and should be drawn from their research is that the informal institutions and practices that are associated with a moral or affective economy continue to be a vital part of social and economic life in Africa. Indigenous concepts and practices are, if not reinvented, at least continuously adapted to changing circumstances. As the contributions to this volume demonstrate, this is true for people in urban as well as rural settings. Principles of reciprocity remain important guides for social and economic behavior. The articles published here also indicate that this phenomenon is common in different countries. The volume contains studies carried out in Burkina Faso, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Senegal, Tanzania and Uganda.

In order to do justice to the theoretical and conceptual context that the various authors have chosen for their work, it is necessary to begin with a discussion of some of the key terms used or alluded to throughout the issue. Thus, the first section of this paper covers the economy of affection and the moral economy – their origin, definition, and place in the study of Africa. The second section focuses on the distinction between formal and informal institutions – an important point in studies of African social, economic and political phenomena. The third section will provide an overview of the content of the various individual contributions to this issue.

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Goran Hyden is a Distinguished Professor, Department of Political Science, University of Florida. He has written extensively on political and development issues with special reference to Africa. His most recent books include African Politics in Comparative Perspective (Cambridge University Press, 2006) and Making Sense of Governance (Lynne Rienner, 2004).