MacLean, Lauren M.: Informal Institutions and Citizenship in Rural Africa: Risk and Reciprocity in Ghana and Cote d'Ivoire.

Author:Abdul-Korah, Gariba B.
Position:Book review
 
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MacLean, Lauren M. Informal Institutions and Citizenship in Rural Africa: Risk and Reciprocity in Ghana and Cote d'Ivoire. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2010. 292 pp.

Lauren MacLean's Informal Institutions and Citizenship in Rural Africa: Risk and Reciprocity in Ghana and Cote d'Ivoire, is crafted in eight chapters under three different but related parts addressing various aspects of the formation of informal institutions and citizenship in four Akan villages two on each side of the Ghana-Cote d'Ivoire border. MacLean opens her discussion by debunking earlier assumptions that "African political economies" have always been in crises. She notes that over the last hundred years, the two neighboring West African countries have at different points in time proved to be "successful models of democratic and economic development"--as compared to many other countries in the sub-region. As such, it will be difficult to understand the various trajectories of their political economies "by solely focusing at the macro-level on state weakness or by exclusively concentrating at the micro-level on the deficits of social capital or missing institutions" (p3). This understanding we must seek from an in-depth study of the socio-economic and political dynamics that have shaped these societies since the colonial period.

In order to comprehend first-hand the complex processes of socioeconomic and political transformation in the four Akan villages, MacLean adopted an ethnographic approach--living and participating in several village activities. She supplemented the knowledge gained from these activities and interviews that she conducted between October 1996 and October 1999 in both regions, with diverse secondary literatures on institutions and agrarian change to demonstrate "how the colonial and postcolonial states has had profound effects on village social institutions and political cultures" (p.11). This sophisticated methodological approach provided a lens through which she attempted to answer two related questions: First, if indeed the Akan villages on both sides of the Ghana--Cote d'Ivoire border consider themselves as "one family" with shared pre-colonial institutions, culture and history, why did their informal institutions of reciprocity differ so significantly? In other words, why did the ways in which they "exchanged help and social support with their nuclear and extended family, clan, friends, neighbors, ethnic group, or others ..." (p.4)...

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