ROAPE at ASAUK: African capitalist society

ROAPE at ASAUK: African capitalist society

ROAPE is pleased to announce that it will host a roundtable discussion on ‘African capitalist society’ to take place at the ASAUK 2016, University of Cambridge, Wednesday, 7.9.2016, 4-5.30pm, room: History – Boardroom; with Deborah James (LSE), Carlos Oya (SOAS), Horman Chitonge (Cape Town), Kate Meagher (LSE) and Stefan Ouma (Frankfurt) as speakers, and Jörg Wiegratz (Leeds) and Peter Lawrence (Keele) as chairs.

Background to the roundtable: Social scientists often study African societies by focusing on a limited set of social phenomena or problems, such as conflict, disputed elections, corruption, crime, exclusion, inequality, ill-health, xenophobia etc. These issue-focused debates – and the concepts and approaches that inform them – regularly ignore the fact that almost all African societies can be considered as capitalist societies, which are shaped by a range of (pro-)capitalist forces and dynamics, past and present; from colonialism to neoliberalism. While there are some political economy analyses that bring to the forefront a number of capitalist features of African economies, this coverage is far from comprehensive to-date when it comes to matters of the economy (e.g. understudied are economic crimes, moral economies of class relations, etc.), and even less prevalent when it comes to the analysis of the capitalist features of African polity, society and culture. A number of the mainstream debates are couched in analytical frames such as ‘development’, ‘democracy’, ‘poverty’, ‘state building’, ‘citizenship’ etc. that allow such debates to pay relatively less attention to ‘the fact’ that the empirical issues in focus are arguably part of a larger capitalist world (e.g. capitalist social formation, society, state, global economy, etc.). This roundtable discussion will explore these issues as follows.

1) The state of scholarship on capitalism in Africa

The above raises questions concerning the scholarship on Africa. We invite our roundtable speakers to address some of the following: What is your view of the research on capitalism in Africa (CiA) and African capitalist society (ACS)? Should one study CiA/ACS more explicitly and extensively than to-date (if yes, why)? What can we gain by linking a particular topic – that the mainstream somewhat de-links from the capitalism theme – more directly to the capitalism theme? What can we gain by studying African society as capitalist society? Is it useful (and if yes, why) to be more explicit and upfront about that when we study particular themes – say, poverty, state practice, corporate behaviours, social/political violence, religion, etc. – we are actually studying aspects [or (epi-)phenomena] of existent capitalist society (including economy/polity) and capitalist development? What are the major gaps regarding research and data on CiA/ACS? What are the limits of using capitalism as an analytical frame in the context of Africa?

Concerning related aspects of their own research: Why do you want to challenge orthodoxies of both the right and left (if any)? How does your research and respective insights differ/go beyond the tropes of African studies? How do you study CiA/ACS? Can you give examples from your own research that illustrate the usefulness (if any) of making the link between capitalism – say, the capitalist mode of production and its system of surplus production and extraction, class, private property etc. – and a social phenomenon? What does your research tell us about the way in which capitalism and polity/culture/society constitute each other in specific African countries?

2) The state of capitalism in Africa

Where is the development of capitalism in Africa now? What kind of capitalism are we talking about? How far can African countries take a road other than that dominated by what John Saul calls ‘the Empire of Capital’? And is that road a capitalism that sees Africa as the reserve army, or a continent ripe for a certain amount of industrialisation, or industrialisation of agriculture? How is all this related to the global corporate capitalism that now dominates? These sort of questions hark back to the work of Bill Warren and also the later work of Sender and Smith. Then there is the issue of class formation both rural and urban: Are we seeing land dispossession and migration to towns and beyond as a new agricultural revolution that precedes industrialisation based on cheap labour, as happened in England? What is your view on the extent of class formation, especially the rise of a working class, both industrial and rural? What is the impact of financial capitalism on the trajectory of CIA/ACS?

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