Women in Africa: Studies in Social and Economic Change

Women in Africa: Studies in Social and Economic Change

Women in Africa: Studies in Social and Economic Change

Women in Africa: Studies in Social and Economic Change


This collection of papers-all but one previously unpublished-presents the results of recent field research in the disciplines of history, political science, anthropology, sociology, and economics. The chief emphasis here is on change: on viewing African women as agents of change from the first arrival of Europeans to the present; and on seeking to change the perspective from which African women have been studied in the past.

The papers encompass settings as diverse as eighteenth-century Senegal and contemporary Mozambique. Politically and socially, too, the local settings are various, including an Igbo village, the marketplaces of Abidjan and Accra, a development scheme in rural Tanzania, the churches of Freetown, and the streets of Mombasa.

The contributors are Iris Berger, James L. Brain, George E. Brooks, Jr., Margaret Jean Hay, Barbara C. Lewis, Leith Mullings, Kamene Okonjo, Claire Robertson, Filomina Chioma Steady, Margaret Strobel, and Judith VanAllen.


The papers in this volume represent the results of recent field research in Africa south of the Sahara by scholars in various disciplines. The emphasis of the volume is on women and change in Africa--change in two senses. First, the articles discuss African women from a changed viewpoint; second, this new perspective in turn recognizes that women in Africa act as agents of change within their own societies.

The literature about African women has been written largely from a male perspective; that is, it has described women in terms of their relationships to men. Studies written by both male and female scholars have fixed women in orbits that revolve around men: typical is Remi Clignet Many Wives, Many Powers, a monograph on polygyny that sees it as "a mechanism which facilitates the fulfillment of male aspirations" (Clignet 1970: 357). In part, the problem has been one of methodology. Men's activities in society have often been defined as those worth investigation, by African informants as well as by Western investigators. Thus women enter scholarly studies predominantly in the realm of marriage and the family. All too often, researchers have based accounts of women solely on data from male informants. An example of this is Evans- Pritchard's Man and Woman Among the Azande, which presents a picture of women based on oral data recorded by African male assistants from male informants, all compiled by a European male.

In dealing with the subject of women, a male researcher's attitudes may intrude with greater impact than might be the case if he were dealing with a less emotionally and culturally charged . . .

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