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Social Anthropology and Two Contrasting Uses of Tribalism in Africa

  • Peter P. Ekeh (a1)

A remarkable feature of African studies has been the sharp discontinuities in the characterization of transitions in African history and society from one era to another. Thus, for an important example, colonialism has rarely been related to the previous era of the slave trade in the analysis of any dominant socioeconomic themes in Africa. Such discontinuity is significant in one important strand of modern African studies: The transition from the lore and scholarship of colonial social anthropology to postcolonial forms of African studies has been stalled into a brittle break because its central focus on the “tribe” has been under attack. Social anthropology gained strength through its analysis of the tribe and its associated concepts of kin groups and kinship behaviors in colonial Africa. However, following criticisms of the mission and manners of social anthropology by postindependence African scholars and politicians, and a brave reexamination of the conceptual problems of their discipline, social anthropologists more or less agreed to abandon the use of the tribe and of its more obvious derivative tribalism with respect to Africa.

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J. F. Ade Ajayi . 1961. “The Place of African History and Culture in the Process of Nation-building in Africa South of the Sahara.” Journal of Negro Education, 30:3, 206–13.

J. D Freedman . 1961. “On the Concept of the Kindred.” Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland, no. 91 (pt. 2: 07-12), 192220.

Max Gluckman . 1960. “Tribalism in Modem British Central Africa.” Cahiers d'Etudes Africaines, 1:1, 5570.

Jack Goody . 1969. “Economy and Feudalism in Africa.” The Economic History Review, 2d. ser., 22:3, 393405.

Elizabeth Isichei . 1976. A History of the Igbo People. New York: St. Martins Press.

Adam Kuper . 1982. “Lineage Theory: A Critical Retrospect.” Annual Review of Anthropology, no. 11, 7195.

Ian Langham . 1981. The Building of British Social Anthropology: W. H. H. Rivers and His Cambridge Disciples in the Development of Kinship Studies, 1898–1931. London: D. Reidel Publishing Company.

Aidan Southall . 1983. “The Contribution of Anthropology to African Studies.” African Studies Review, 26:3–4, 6396.

J Vansina . 1960. “Recording of Oral History of the Bakura.” Journal of African History, 1:1, 4553.

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Comparative Studies in Society and History
  • ISSN: 0010-4175
  • EISSN: 1475-2999
  • URL: /core/journals/comparative-studies-in-society-and-history
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