Political Science and the Study of Africa
- LAST REVIEWED: 30 July 2015
- LAST MODIFIED: 28 July 2015
- DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199846733-0082
- LAST REVIEWED: 30 July 2015
- LAST MODIFIED: 28 July 2015
- DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199846733-0082
Political science contributes a large share of the social research on Africa, and research on Africa has contributed important insights within the discipline of political science. The region contains more than fifty countries, which have exhibited wide variation on “big” issues that motivate political scientists: issues of war and peace, dictatorship and democracy, poverty and development, and sovereignty and interdependence. Major studies of state collapse, ethnic politics, democratization, the political economy of development, and international humanitarian intervention reflect serious engagement with African experiences. The theoretical orientation of much of the field is broadly “institutionalist” in its attention to the organization of political life, informed by two (not necessarily incompatible) “institutionalisms.” One derives from rational-choice political economy and treats institutions as products of and constraints on goal-oriented actors. The other derives from political sociology and treats institutions as social constructions embedded in their cultural settings. Institutions are unusually important in African politics because they are unusually fragile and because the stakes of institution building and institutional failure are unusually high. The methodological orientation of the field is becoming more pluralistic, with studies that employ familiar qualitative methods joined by a growing body of quantitative and mixed-method work. More than ever, a versatile methodological tool kit comes in handy on the research frontier. This article addresses key areas in the study of African politics, including the structural and institutional context of politics (States), political regimes and regime change (Political Trajectories), and social and economic consequences of politics (Politics of Development). Most works cited are by political scientists, with some contributions by others on themes of interest to political scientists.
Overviews of African politics must strike a balance between identifying similarities across the region and capturing differences within it. Together, Nugent 2012, a long book, and Allen 1995, a short article, pull it off: Paul Nugent presents a detailed comparative history, and Chris Allen complements it with a framework that reduces the daunting variation to a few major political trajectories. Political scientists should read Allen 1995 first and stick a copy to the windshield before setting off down Nugent’s many paths. Cheeseman, et al. 2013 is a wide-ranging collection of concise essays on major themes in African politics. Cooper 2002, introduces debates about politics and development in modern Africa from the perspective of a leading historian. Young 2012 and Hydén 2006 contain critical syntheses of decades of research on African politics by two leaders in the field, with Crawford Young emphasizing state dynamics and Göran Hydén emphasizing societal foundations.
Allen, Chris. “Understanding African Politics.” Review of African Political Economy 22.65 (1995): 301–320.
Argues that the diversity of postcolonial African politics can be reduced to a few political trajectories, defined initially by how and how well political leaders built ruling coalitions to manage divisions rooted in heterogeneous anticolonial movements, and later by how and how well those coalitions (or whatever remained of or replaced them) withstood the global economic and political shocks of the 1980s and early 1990s.
Cheeseman, Nic, David M. Anderson, and Andrea Scheibler, eds. Routledge Handbook of African Politics. New York: Routledge, 2013.
A collection of thirty-two essays on major themes in the study of African politics, by leading scholars in the field. Organized into section on the state, identity, conflict, democracy, development, and international relations.
Cooper, Frederick. Africa since 1940: The Past of the Present. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2002.
An extended essay on politics and development in Africa. Argues that the African state’s position as a “gatekeeper” to external political and economic benefits was established during the colonial period, and explores how political independence has modified the ways rulers use it.
Hydén, Göran. African Politics in Comparative Perspective. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2006.
A synthesis of research on African politics, assessing its impact on the discipline of political science. Emphasizes “informal behavior and institutions,” from the personalization of political power, to patron-client networks, to “economies of affection” in agrarian society.
Nugent, Paul. Africa since Independence: A Comparative History. 2d ed. Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012.
A comparative history of political change in Africa since independence. Addresses theoretical controversies through comparative analysis and “thick description” of individual cases.
Young, Crawford. The Postcolonial State in Africa: Fifty Years of Independence, 1960–2010. Africa and the Diaspora. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2012.
A comparative and historical study of postcolonial African states. Covers the first fifty years of African independence, identifying three cycles of hope followed (mostly) by disappointment, with the most recent cycle culminating in the divergent political trajectories of the post–Cold War era. Includes thematic chapters on civil war, political identity, and state performance.
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- Achebe, Chinua
- Aid and Economic Development
- Arabic Language and Literature
- Archaeology and the Study of Africa
- Archaeology of Central Africa
- Archaeology of Eastern Africa
- Archaeology of Southern Africa
- Art, Art History, and the Study of Africa
- Arts of Central Africa
- Arts of Western Africa
- Asante and the Akan and Mossi States
- Bantu Expansion
- Benin (Dahomey)
- Botswana (Bechuanaland)
- Brink, André
- British Colonial Rule in Sub-Saharan Africa
- Burkina Faso (Upper Volta)
- Cape Verde
- Central African Republic
- Children and Childhood
- Christianity, African
- Coetzee, J.M.
- Colonial Rule, Belgian
- Colonial Rule, French
- Colonial Rule, German
- Colonial Rule, Italian
- Colonial Rule, Portuguese
- Comoro Islands
- Congo, Republic of (Congo Brazzaville)
- Congo River Basin States
- Conservation and Wildlife
- Crime and the Law in Colonial Africa
- Democratic Republic of Congo (Zaire)
- Development of Early Farming and Pastoralism
- Diaspora, Kongo Atlantic
- Early States And State Formation In Africa
- Early States of the Western Sudan
- Economy, Informal
- Education and the Study of Africa
- Egypt, Ancient
- Environmental History
- Equatorial Guinea
- Ethnicity and Politics
- Europe and Africa, Medieval
- Food and Food Production
- Fugard, Athol
- Genocide in Rwanda
- Geography and the Study of Africa
- Gikuyu (Kikuyu) People of Kenya
- Gordimer, Nadine
- Great Lakes States of Eastern Africa, The
- Health, Medicine, and the Study of Africa
- Historiography and Methods of African History
- History and the Study of Africa
- Ijo/Niger Delta
- Image of Africa, The
- Indian Ocean and Middle Eastern Slave Trades
- Indian Ocean Trade
- Invention of Tradition
- Iron Working and the Iron Age in Africa
- Islam in Africa
- Islamic Politics
- Kongo and the Coastal States of West Central Africa
- Language and the Study of Africa
- Literature and the Study of Africa
- Lord's Resistance Army
- Maasai and Maa-Speaking Peoples of East Africa, The
- Mau Mau
- Media and Journalism
- Military History
- Modern African Literature in European Languages
- Music, Dance, and the Study of Africa
- Music, Traditional
- Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o
- North Africa from 600 to 1800
- North Africa to 600
- Northeastern African States, c. 1000 BCE-1800 CE
- Oman, the Gulf, and East Africa
- Oral and Written Traditions, African
- Police and Policing
- Political Science and the Study of Africa
- Political Systems, Precolonial
- Popular Culture and the Study of Africa
- Population and Demography
- Postcolonial Sub-Saharan African Politics
- Sao Tomé and Príncipe
- Seychelles, The
- Slave Trade, Atlantic
- Slavery in Africa
- Social and Cultural Anthropology and the Study of Africa
- South Africa Post c. 1850
- Southern Africa to c. 1850
- States of the Zimbabwe Plateau and Zambezi Valley
- Sudan and South Sudan
- Swahili City States of the East African Coast
- Swahili Language and Literature
- Tanzania (Tanganyika and Zanzibar)
- Traditional Religion, African
- Trans-Saharan Trade
- Urbanism and Urbanization
- Wars and Warlords
- Western Sahara
- Women and African History
- Women and Colonialism
- Women and Politics
- Women and Slavery
- Women, Gender and the Study of Africa
- Women in 19th-Century West Africa
- Yoruba Language and Literature
- Yoruba States, Benin, and Dahomey