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No Condition Is Permanent: The Social Dynamics of Agrarian Change in Sub-Saharan Africa

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“No condition is permanent,” a popular West African slogan, expresses Sara S. Berry’s theme: the obstacles to African agrarian development never stay the same.  Her book explores the complex way African economy and society are tied to issues of land and labor, offering a comparative study of agrarian change in four rural economies in sub-Saharan Africa, including two that “No condition is permanent,” a popular West African slogan, expresses Sara S. Berry’s theme: the obstacles to African agrarian development never stay the same.  Her book explores the complex way African economy and society are tied to issues of land and labor, offering a comparative study of agrarian change in four rural economies in sub-Saharan Africa, including two that experienced long periods of expanding peasant production for export (southern Ghana and southwestern Nigeria), a settler economy (central Kenya), and a rural labor reserve (northeastern Zambia).      The resources available to African farmers have changed dramatically over the course of the twentieth century.  Berry asserts that the ways resources are acquired and used are shaped not only by  the incorporation of a rural area into colonial (later national) and global political economies, but also by conflicts over culture, power, and property within and beyond rural communities.  By tracing the various debates over rights to resources and their effects on agricultural production and farmers’ uses of income, Berry presents agrarian change as a series of on-going processes rather than a set of discrete “successes” and “failures.”      No Condition Is Permanent enriches the discussion of agrarian development by showing how  multidisciplinary studies of local agrarian history can constructively contribute to development policy.  The book is a contribution both to African agrarian history and to debates over the role of agriculture in Africa’s recent economic crises.


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“No condition is permanent,” a popular West African slogan, expresses Sara S. Berry’s theme: the obstacles to African agrarian development never stay the same.  Her book explores the complex way African economy and society are tied to issues of land and labor, offering a comparative study of agrarian change in four rural economies in sub-Saharan Africa, including two that “No condition is permanent,” a popular West African slogan, expresses Sara S. Berry’s theme: the obstacles to African agrarian development never stay the same.  Her book explores the complex way African economy and society are tied to issues of land and labor, offering a comparative study of agrarian change in four rural economies in sub-Saharan Africa, including two that experienced long periods of expanding peasant production for export (southern Ghana and southwestern Nigeria), a settler economy (central Kenya), and a rural labor reserve (northeastern Zambia).      The resources available to African farmers have changed dramatically over the course of the twentieth century.  Berry asserts that the ways resources are acquired and used are shaped not only by  the incorporation of a rural area into colonial (later national) and global political economies, but also by conflicts over culture, power, and property within and beyond rural communities.  By tracing the various debates over rights to resources and their effects on agricultural production and farmers’ uses of income, Berry presents agrarian change as a series of on-going processes rather than a set of discrete “successes” and “failures.”      No Condition Is Permanent enriches the discussion of agrarian development by showing how  multidisciplinary studies of local agrarian history can constructively contribute to development policy.  The book is a contribution both to African agrarian history and to debates over the role of agriculture in Africa’s recent economic crises.

31 review for No Condition Is Permanent: The Social Dynamics of Agrarian Change in Sub-Saharan Africa

  1. 5 out of 5

    Mwanafunzi

    A landmark book comparing changing rural economies in West, East, and Southern Africa in the twentieth century. For Berry, functionalist accounts of African societies and economies had failed to capture both historical and contemporary realities. She shows that resource access and use cannot be adequately described as “rational actors’ responses to relative factor prices and rules governing the definition of property rights or the nature and enforcement of contracts.” While these structural cons A landmark book comparing changing rural economies in West, East, and Southern Africa in the twentieth century. For Berry, functionalist accounts of African societies and economies had failed to capture both historical and contemporary realities. She shows that resource access and use cannot be adequately described as “rational actors’ responses to relative factor prices and rules governing the definition of property rights or the nature and enforcement of contracts.” While these structural constraints clearly influence people’s actions, we need to make room in our analyses for “the mobilization and exercise of power and the terms in which rights and obligations are defined.” Berry argues for a methodology and a theory that incorporate not just economic perspectives, but also regionally specific legal, political, social, and cultural understandings. Without these other perspectives, one cannot explain the ways in which resource and access use are tied up with people’s understandings of authority, obligation, the division of labor, and the meaning of exchange. She takes both neoclassical and Marxist scholars to task, arguing that both treated economic and legal systems as somehow discrete from culture and power. A major contribution that remains relevant.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Laura

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