Control & Crisis in Colonial Kenya: The Dialectic of Domination

By Bruce Berman | Go to book overview

One
Capitalism and the Colonial State

During the 1960s a revival of Marxist social theory in capitalist societies began to change the face of Western social science. Not least affected was African studies, as Africanist scholars sought alternatives to the ahistorical fantasies of theories of 'modernization' and 'development'. What they sought were theories that could more effectively explain not only contemporary struggles and crises, but also the complex colonial and precolonial histories being uncovered by burgeoning research. Of the various versions of Marxist theory that have emerged, the most influential among Africanists was initially the 'structuralism' developed by Louis Althusser and his students. This was introduced into African studies through Nicos Poulantzas's work on the theory of the state, and the development by French economic anthropologists such as Pierre- Philippe Rey, Emmanuel Terray and Claude Meillassoux of the concepts of 'mode of production' and 'articulation'. 1 The present study was begun during the high point of the influence of structuralist ideas in the late 1970s and was completed in the 1980s at a time when their moment had apparently passed. In the course of its construction I struggled to transcend the conceptual rigidity and empirical sterility of structuralist theory and find the conceptual basis for a materialist analysis capable of dealing both powerfully and subtly with the complexity, ambiguity and idiosyncracy of the history of a single colony. To do so required not only critical analysis of the specific inadequacies of structuralist concepts, but also consideration of the relationship between theory and real historical experience, and reconstruction of the conceptual basis for the analysis of the colonial state, the introduction of capitalism into Africa and its linkage with indigenous social forms. These matters must be briefly recounted here to establish the theoretical basis for the ordering of the evidence on colonial Kenya in the chapters that follow.

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