Jack Goody’s vision of world history and Africa today

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Seminar Date
August 10, 2011
Jack Goody based his understanding of the specificity of Subsaharan Africa's societies on a contrast with Eurasian civilizations all of which were shaped by what the prehistorian Gordon Childe called the Bronze Age "urban revolution", whereas Africa beyond the Mediterranean littoral was not. This vision owes a lot to a tradition begun by Rousseau and continued by Morgan and Engels. It divides the world into societies founded on kinship and those organized by states and class division. Goody subsequently devoted even more attention to refuting the claims made for Western superiority over Asia and this position has lately been reinforced by the rise of China and India as economic powers. Goody's vision of world history and especially the institutional analysis underpinning it is of considerable interest. Over the years the author has come to recognize his own intelelctual debt to his teacher. In this paper, however, Goody's approach serves both to inform an analysis of African history in the twentieth century and as a reminder that this history has been rendered curiously static in his later comparisons between East and West. Africa might be said to have undergone an "urban revolution" in the last century through the wholesale installation of the Bronze Age package of cities, states, classes, agricultural intensification and new patterns of exploitation. The interesting question is whether this version of the Old Regime might be susceptible to a new liberal revolution. Goody's vision is of less help in answering it.
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