Social and historical trajectories of agency in Africa

TitleSocial and historical trajectories of agency in Africa
Publication TypeBook Chapter
Year of Publication2007
AuthorsM.E. de Bruijn, R.A. van Dijk, and J.B. Gewald
EditorP. Chabal, U. Engel, and L.J. de Haan
Secondary TitleAfrican Alternatives
Pagination9 - 20
Date Published2007///
Place PublishedLeiden [etc.]
Publication Languageeng
KeywordsAfrica, African studies, research methods, social sciences

This chapter outlines the historical trajectory of the agency paradigm in African studies. It shows that over the past four decades, all the major social science paradigms - from structuralism to Marxism, world-systems theory and globalization theory - that sought to explain the predicament of African societies in terms of structure have been countered and critiqued by perspectives that emphasized human creativity and resilience, or 'agency'. An important contribution of the agency perspective to the academic understanding of social change in Africa has been its capacity to explode the structure-actor dichotomy in exchange for a more balanced approach to local processes of change. The authors argue that if agency is simultaneously produced by actor and structure, it generates a reflexive and negotiating moment between the two. This is what they call the promise of agency. Agency prevents the local from being the victim of the global, the traditional from being the slave of the modern, or the citizen from being the subject of relentless authority. Bibliogr. (The chapter has also been published in a longer version as introduction in: Strength beyond structure: social and historical trajectories of agency in Africa, Leiden, 2007.) [ASC Leiden abstract]

Citation Key2079