Volume 9, Issue 1 & 2
Introduction and Overview to the Special Issue on Africa’s Moral and
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.
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.
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
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
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 dsicussion
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.
THE ECONOMY OF AFFECTION AND
economy of affection and the moral economy are part of a conceptual lineage
that goes quite far back in social science historiography. Some may argue that
Emile Durkheim’s distinction between mechanical and organic types of solidarity
is the beginning. Others may refer to Weber and his differentiation between
traditional and modern forms of authroity. Yet others may point to Karl
Polanyi’s seminal book, The Great Transformation, and his notion of
substantivist in contrast to capitalist economics. To this can be added a series of anthopologists, e.g.
Marshall Sahlins, whose work has built on these early pioneers.
common denominator in these early studies is the transformation of society that
follows from the spread of the market economy or capitalism. To be sure, this
is not the only variable that matters in this process. Many would point to
technological development and industrialization. Others would point to
urbanization or the impact of education. Whatever the role and importance of
these other factors, capitalism is of special significance when it comes to
understanding the economy of affection and the moral economy. The latter two
constitute alternative forms of political economy. They are not purely
structural as the Marxist version of political economy is in its emphasis on
formal institutions like market and state. Nor are they just based on the
assumptions associated with homo economicus – the autonomous individual
capable of making rational choices to maximize his self-interest. The moral and
affective types of economic action discussed in this issue are embedded in
social relations and cultural conventions. Individual behavior and choice in
these economies are fully rational, albeit in a given context. Rationality in
the economy of affection or the moral economy, therefore, must be understood as
contextualized as compared to the abstract version associated with rational
choice theory. Comparison is not impossible but it is a challenge because of
contextual specificities. Such comparisons can never be stretched to the point
of being organized under a single formalized theory.
may be viewed as a major shortcoming of these alternative political economies,
yet it is precisely because of the limitations inherent in formal theory that
the social sciences need more than one lens to interpret social reality. Formal
theory is really only helpful in the study of phenomena that are predictable,
e.g. votes in legislatures where party loyalties are known in advance and
issues can be arranged on a stable ideological spectrum. Attempts to study
social and political reality outside such stable institutional environments
inevitably imply such severe reductionism that the study loses sight of the
more interesting research qestions to be asked. The economy of affection or
moral economy help us throw light on forms of social, economic, and political
behavior that are significant, yet not covered by concepts in mainstream
notion of moral economy in contemporary social science studies is foremost
associated with the name of James C. Scott (see above), and more specifically
his study of peasants in southeast Asia. Partly because of his Asian focus, he
has attracted much attention among
Japanese social scientists interested in peasant economies. Scott argues that
social practices among peasants in southeast Asia are based on two moral
premises: (1) the norm of reciprocity and (2) the right to subsistence. This
translates into a fear of technological innovation and social change. Peasants
adopt the “safety-first” principle or what
economists would call a risk-averse position vis-a-vis their environment.
Instead of taking on these challenges, peasants seek social insurance in the
form of support from family, friends, and neighbors. These relations of mutual
support are sometimes lateral (among equals) at other times vertical involving
a relationship with a patron. According to Scott, patron-client relations have
been on decline since capitalism began to make an inroad in the countryside. As
a result, these producers on the land – subsistence farmers, tenants, and
agricultural laborers – have become increasingly dependent on their own wit.
Theirs is not the conventional class action, but rather non-compliance with
rules and regulations, sabotage, evasion, and deception – what the same author
in a subsequent volume refers to as the “weapons of the weak.”
economy of affection is a close equivalent to the moral economy that has been
used in the study of African social and political life. According to Hyden,
this type of political economy is an outgrowth of the prevalence of a peasant
mode of production, in which rural producers have yet to be captured by state
or market. In this pre-capitalist
order, households place greater emphasis on social reproduction and subsistence
than on production and profit. Because
agricultural technology is simple, there is little specialization and hence
limited social differentiation. The wealthier members of a community are not
rich because they own land on which others are forced to till. Instead, their
wealth stems from owning a larger plot and having more family members to
cultivate it. The economy of affection blends economic and social rationality:
individuals are rational in the sense of pursuing strategies that are embedded
in local social contexts. Hyden defines the economy of affection as “a network of support,
communications and interaction among structurally defined groups connected by blood,
kin, community or other affiliations, for example, religion.”
the moral economy, the economy of affection is a way for peasants to cope with
circumstances that are threatening their livelihoods. There are some
significant differences, however, stemming foremost from the differences in
level of development between southeast Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. Because
market and state have penetrated society more effectively in southeast Asia,
the moral economy is more a direct response to the inevitable exploitation of
the poor that tend to be associated with these processes. The existence of an
indigenous state legacy and the longtime exposure to capitalism in countries
like Vietnam, Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia as well as the concentration of
people and the reliance on more sophisticated agricultural technology have
facilitated a process of capturing the peasants that are just beginning to
happen in Africa. To be sure, the aim of the colonial state was precisely that
of capturing the peasants for its own ends, but since independence much
political energy has been spent on dismantling that structure and weakening the
capacity of the state – and the market – to influence life in the rural areas.
Economic liberalization has not transformed agriculture or promoted rural
development. Instead, it has led to an accelerated migration from the
countryside to the urban areas.
process of migration has also changed the nature of the economy of affection.
When confined to the rural areas, it tends to rely on relatively stable
reciprocal solidarities. People are ready to exchange labor at critical points
in the agricultural season. They also chip in to regularly assist each other at
times of important family occasions, notably the birth or baptism of a child, youth
initiation, weddings, and funerals. These reciprocities tend to be quite
specific and they are taken for granted as obligations to others for purposes
of enjoying a form of social insurance that otherwise would not be there. Some
of these specific reciprocities continue to survive as members of households
move to the urban areas. Rural-urban ties continue to be important, especially
among first and second generation of urban migrants. The important thing,
however, is that old social ties are amended and new ones invented to
perpetuate economy of affection types of relations and behaviors. Many of these
tend to be generalized in nature and some are ad hoc arrangements at times of
hardship. They also involve relationships that cut across previous, quite strictly
demarcated lines of reciprocal interaction. As several articles in this issue
demonstrate, the social significance of precapitalist social relations survive.
They constitute the mental frame within which individuals make choices and
economy of affection and the moral economy, as portrayed by Scott, differ in
the following two respects. With regard to presence, the former is more
prevalent and central to social and political life than the latter. The moral
economy, while important to local peasants, is rather peripheral to the economy
at large in any southeast Asian country. In Africa, by contrast, the economy of
affection is at the core of social and political life. In addition to the
phenomena discussed in this issue, the economy of affection is at the root of
clientelism and other forms of both lateral and vertical forms of reciprocity.
Most importantly, the relations between rich and poor have yet to “snap” in the sense of leading to land alienation and
being replaced by capitalist types of social exploitation.
two economies also differ with regard to function. The moral economy is
primarily a defense mechanism. It is reactive in the sense of being a way for
marginalized people to counter the influence of external social forces that
threaten their livelihoods or lifeworld. Whether material or cultural values
are at stake, peasants, according to Scott, get together to protect themselves
by engaging in evasive action, deception, and other forms of non-compliance
with orders or demands from more powerful groups or institutions. The economy
of affection also serves as a defense mechanism but it transcends that
particular function. It serves the purpose of maintaining social relations and
also social advancement. In this respect, the economy of affection is
entrepreneurial. Poorer members of society seek out richer members, not just
relatives, to obtain a “loan” that would allow
him to e.g. build a house, buy the necessary equipment to start a business,
etc. Richer ones seek out poorer ones to build a power base that can be used
for political purposes.
economy of affection, therefore, is more prevalent and more varied than the
moral economy. Although both are alternatives to conventional types of
political economy, the former has a more dominant influence of society and its
development. In fact, it is so strong that it easily subverts conventional
models of development based on state or market, a topic that lies outside the
scope of this particular issue.
another aside, it should also be mentioned here that the moral and affective
economy is becoming a global phenomenon. At the empirical level, it is
increasingly applied to Africans in the diaspora: traders and others who live
in Europe and North America engaging in reciprocities of various kinds, e.g.
helping new migrants to get a place to stay or a visa to reside. At the more
normative level, Sayer applies the notion of “moral
economy” to the conditions of developed societies where the market economy is
well institutionalized. His argument is essentially that social scientists need
to think beyond utilitarianism and rejuvernate a more radical political economy
that is based on such principles as justice, equality and respect for public
goods. Human agency is more than just pursuing one’s self-interest. It also
implies judgements of responsibility and morally-guided action.
FORMAL AND INFORMAL INSTITUTIONS
Institutions are typically understood as rules of
conduct; organizations are the actors performing within a particular institutional
framework, either complying with or challenging it. Recent literature on
neo-institutionalism is characterized by two controversies. One concerns
whether an institution is merely the sum total of individual actors working
together or it has a life of its own, influencing the choice and behavior of
individual actors. Scholars like Ostrom would tend to see institutions as
creations by rational individuals capable of both designing and terminating
institutions at their will. In this theoretical scenario, institutions are dependent
variables explained by the rational choices of individual actors. Other
scholars, coming out of a sociological or historical approach to institutions,
e.g. March and Olson, argue that institutions have an influence on human behavior
and choice. Individuals are being socialized by social entities,
e.g. family, schools, organizations, that convey the importance and value of
specific institutions. The latter, therefore, are independent variables
explaining why individuals behave in certain ways or make certain types of
 Compliance with state
regulations and the principles of neo-liberal economic order – the “good governance” package – is being advocated as
inevitable prerequisites for development. Institutionalization, therefore,
means formalization. Another is empirical. Scholars find it hard to study
things informal. They are hard to identify, even more difficult to measure. The
emphasis, therefore, tend to be on formal institutions, the rules that are
written and that are tested in the open. Because informal institutions are not
so easily transparent, they are typically left out altogether or spoken of only
in general terms as part of “culture.” A third reason
is epistemological: the tendency to deny agency to informal institutions.
Informal institutions are not just customs and conventions that do not change.
As articles in the issue demonstrate, informal institutions are constantly
being subject to change, including efforts to stabilize them.
Institutionalization, therefore, is also possible in the field of informal
institutions. The challenge is that understanding such processes are more
labor-intensive and do not easily lend themselves to generalizations in the
context of an abstract formal theory. Informal institutions exist in the “gray” zone between economics and culture and that is
where the research frontier is, especially in Africa, but not just there.
Social science research is better served by an inductive
approach that begins with the identification of a research problem that
requires careful consideration of which theory or method is best suited for
understanding and analyzing that problem. An increasing number of social
scientists, unfortunately, approach the study of social and political problems
with ready-made solutions – theories that they wrongly assume are sufficiently
robust to explain issues regardless of cultural and historical context. This is
not meant to deny the value of comparative research, only to suggest that
comparisons based on abstract theory are
inevitably only telling a very small part of the whole story; hence, it is
useless for purposes of prediction – a principal ambition of the social
 In developing
countries, it is more often part of pre-modern reality: ways of resisting,
coping with, and taking advantage of formal institutions imposed by formal
state institutions – and, often, international bodies like the International
Monetary Fund and the World Bank.
This issue deals with informal institutions that are a
product of the affective and moral economy. Other informal institutions may
have a different origin. The point, though, is that regardless of origin,
informal institutions matter more, not less today. The work that the Japanese
researchers featured here have done is an important contribution to knowledge.
They operate at the frontier of today’s social science research.
THE INDIVIDUAL CONTRIBUTIONS
The seven contributions to this issue can be divided into
two groups. The first four deal with a set of reciprocal arrangements that are
leftovers from precolonial times: labor and food exchanges that help members of
a local community overcome labor bottlenecks while simultaneously sharing the
fruits of their labor in the context of a “beer party.” The
remaining three contributions deal with the reinvention of informal
institutions inspired by affective solidarities among formal business
entrepreneurs as well as informal sector traders in an urban environment.
Soichiro Shiraishi discusses the influence of the
monetary economy on traditional labor exchange practices among the Sabiny
people in eastern Uganda. While beer has given way to money as a medium of
exchange, the short-term exchanges that are characteristic of the modern
economy are still conducted with the help of locally meaningful terms that grow
out of the traditions of the Sabiny. Capitalism does not obliterate informal
institutions, but creates conditions in which they are reinvented.
does not produce conflict.
Sayaka Ogawa offers fascinating insights into the evolution and
management of informal institutions among local middlemen and smallscale
retailers (street peddlers) in Mwanza, the second largest city in Tanzania.
Particularly interesting is a local credit system that balances the pursuit of
profit with social norms that draw inspiration from the economy of affection.
She demonstrates that reciprocities can survive and stabilize relations even in
fluid urban contexts. The fellowship that emerges among these smallscale
business people does not stem from building trust in the conventional manner
that Westerners think of. Instead, trust comes from being able to handle tricks
that members keep making against each other. These acts are the equivalence of
jokes in a joking relationship aimed at testing the temper of a stranger and
deducing trust therefrom.
Tadasu Tsuruta, finally, discusses the contemporary relevance of
moral-economic concepts that people in Tanzania, using the country’s lingua
franca, Kiswahili, have invented in response to external economic and
cultural influences. The important message that his article conveys is that
linguistic terms and concepts in Kiswahili are multi-facetted and straddle
notions that are disaggregated into more specific terms in the English or
French language. Things like joking and mutual aid, dance and politics, as well
as wit and cunning, go together with very different social implications than
they have in modern society. At the same time, it would be a mistake, Tsuruta
argues, to consider this to be just a leftover of traditional life. The
interesting thing about these concepts is that they cannot be placed in
pre-arranged Western categories. Thus, they prompt us to probe their cultural
content and rediscover the extent to which moral and affective relations are
important in contemporary Africa.
 Goran Hyden, Beyond Ujamaa in
Underdevelopment and an Uncaptured Peasantry.
Press 1980; Goran Hyden, No
Shortcuts to Progress: African Development Management in Perspective.
Press 1983. James. C. Scott, The Moral Economy of the Peasant.
 Karl Polanyi, The Great Transformation.
Beacon Press 1957.
 Marshall Sahlins, Stone Age Economics.
Tavistock Publications 1972.
 James. C.
Scott, Weapons of the Weak.
New Haven CT
 Hyden 1980, op.cit.
 Hyden 1983, op.cit. p. 8.
 Andrew Sayer, “Moral Economy and Political Economy”, Studies in
Political Economy, vol 69, no 1 (2000), pp
 Elinor Ostrom, Governing the
 James G.
March and Johan P. Olsen, The Rediscovery of Institutions.
North, Institutions, Institutional Change and Economic Performance.
 Ronald Inglehart, Modernization and Postmodernization.
___________. 1985. Weapons of the Weak. New Haven CT: Yale University Press.
Goran Hyden is 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).
Reference Style: The following is the suggested format for referencing this article: Goran Hyden. "Introduction and Overview to the Special Issue on Africa’s Moral and
Affective Economy." African Studies Quarterly 9, no.1 & 2: [online] URL: http://web.africa.ufl.edu/asq/v9/v9i1a1.htm