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Trade networks in West Africa: a social network approach*

  • Olivier J. Walther (a1)

To date, most of the literature on trade networks in West Africa has considered networks in a metaphorical way. The aim of this paper is to go one step further by showing how social network analysis may be applied to the study of regional trade in West Africa. After a brief review of the literature, this exploratory paper investigates two main issues related to regional trade. We start by discussing how recent developments in regional trade in West Africa have contributed to challenging the social structure of traders. We then discuss the changes that have affected the spatiality of regional trade by looking at the influence of spatial location and geographic scale on traders' abilities to trade. In both cases, we argue that the value of social network analysis in exploring how traders have progressively adapted to social and spatial changes in economic activities has been greatly underestimated. Our discussion is illustrated with the case of two trade networks located between Niger, Benin and Nigeria.

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This research is supported by the National Research Fund of Luxembourg (CROSSTRADE Project C10/LM/783313 and WANETS Project MOBILITY/12/4753257). Earlier versions of this paper were presented at the European Conference on African Studies in Uppsala in June 2011 and at the Border Regions in Transition Conference in Grenoble in September 2011. The author thanks Dimitris Christopoulos, Emmanuel Grégoire, Philipp Heinrigs, Allen Howard, Bill Miles, Jen Nelles, Paul Nugent and Denis Retaillé for their helpful comments.

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The Journal of Modern African Studies
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