University of Cambridge > Talks.cam > McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research > 31st Annual Lecture: 'The Political Economy of Precolonial African States - Metals, Trinkets, Land, etc, etc'

31st Annual Lecture: 'The Political Economy of Precolonial African States - Metals, Trinkets, Land, etc, etc'

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The political economy of precolonial African states is a topic of huge global significance for the comparative insights that it unlocks. And yet, some dominant frameworks for exploring the topic are still captured by old theories, long superseded in other world areas. For example, external long-distance trade and ‘prestige goods’ are still viewed as major determinants of the rise, flourishing and decline of medieval African states. Because they evolved with no role for local (African) critiques, counter-critiques and local validation of outcome knowledge, contemporary studies of African historical political economies continuously struggle to move past this capture.

This lecture brings together multiple variables such as craft production, land, trade and exchange and among others, ideology, within a framework mediated by concept revision and local knowledge to mint locally centred readings of deep time African political economies. While raising similarities and divergences with historical political economies elsewhere, the lecture though provokingly argues that land and its control offered more options to those in power than trinkets brought from distance through various means, trade included. This raises the point that political economies rooted in production have more potential to transform contemporary Africa than those spurred by the flawed narrative that as with ‘the past’, – the continent’s prosperity must be hinged on exotics – both in cash and goods.

This talk is part of the McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research series.

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