Two different sentences in Intervention’s reporting of the passage of Prof Abdullahi Mahdi, ex-Vice-Chancellor of the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, have come under attack from critical readers. There are two main criticisms. One alleges a failure to distinguish between methodology and theory in talking about the contribution(s) of the Ibadan School of History. The other one under attack is the sentence which gave the impression that Dependency Theory in International Political Economy/International Relations is an exclusive scholarly contribution of Latin America
The two different readers who reacted on Ibadan do not agree that Ibadan School of History stress on orality was a contribution to postcolonial theory but a methodology issue. They think Intervention conflated the two. The sentence they are uncomfortable with runs as follows: “It is the same thing that the Ibadan School of History must do to claim its pioneering status in postcolonial theory and standpoint epistemology”
The observation is welcome and well noted. It is a problem of tradition of scholarship. Positivist scholars put a lot of stress on theory as being different from methodology. This is the opposite among post-positivist scholars where most of the theories automatically imply their own methodological techniques. A postcolonial theorist, for instance, will go for techniques where problems of ‘seeing’ and ‘hearing’ will not arise as in most quantitative techniques with in-built exclusionary mechanisms in them. It is in that sense that it doesn’t matter whether orality is taken as theoretical or epistemological contribution because both theory and technique are all coming from the same metatheoretical reading of the world.
The point that sentence actually seeks to make is this. Today, it is a great deal to strut out as a post-positivist researcher using in-depth interviews, FGD, snowballing and so on, ALL of which privilege the cognitive wealth of respondents to tell their own stories or bring their own angle on reality into the story. At the height of rationalism, these techniques were not that prominent or privileged. But when they celebrate these research techniques today in Europe and North America, nobody mentions the Ibadan School of History in the degree it should be mentioned for stressing on the cognitive endowment of respondents through orality in researching Africa. Instead of Ibadan, the credit goes rather to the Perestroika rebellion in the US in 2000, several decades after Ibadan successfully inserted orality into historiography and with it the opening for the degraded to partake in their representation. Perhaps, the fault is in us. We have not made enough ‘noise’ to claim that credit. But we can still do it. That is really the point in that sentence. A debate has to take place and the proceedings published and circulated and critiqued and re-published, if need be.
The really interesting point in this particular reaction is two different scholars from different universities converging on a same point, using almost the same language. That is really fascinating!
The second area of complaint is about this sentence also in the Abdullahi Mahdi story. It goes like this: “Unlike Latin America which added value to Marxism through a creative application of it from their own experience of history to propound Dependency Theory or Asia which added a practical dimension to development theory by producing the ‘Asian Tigers’ or arriving at modernity mostly by rejecting modernisation orthodoxy, Africa has yet to make or accomplish such a distinctive scholarly intervention. That leaves the continent with what would now be called its exertions in standpoint epistemology as the plausible achievements”.
A consistent reader reacted by saying that Dependency Theory was never a wholly Latin American thing. Although conceding that Latin American intellectuals played a strong role in it, the readers points out how Andre Gunder Frank, one of the leading scholars, was even a German who only worked in Latin America. And, he says, it was Western scholars like Chalmers Johnson, Robert Wade and Alice Amsden who popularised the theorising of East Asia’s developmental states. That is another way of saying that the rupturing of IMF/World Bank orthodoxy by Asia’s success stories in modernisation was also never the exclusive contribution of Asia to practice either.
Contrary to Intervention’s consideration of the pioneering works of a scholar – politician such as Fernando Henrique Cardoso who was to become an elected president of Brazil, this reader argues that the Argentine, Raul Prebisch, was a more influential dependency scholar in Economics in contrast to Cardoso who was in Sociology.
And then the clencher – that Africa was/is very much there in Dependency and cannot but be recognised. “By the way, Samir Amin was a central figure in the generation of dependency theory”, adding that Samir Amin was Africa’s dependency scholar par excellence who was up there with the other theorists from other regions. The reader credits the now late Samir Amin with being highly theoretical except that, “in my view, he deviated from his more empirically grounded work in his early career, such as his excellent piece “Dependency and Underdevelopment in Black Africa”.
He agrees with Intervention that Walter Rodney was/is the one whose work would have been that distinctively African intervention in theorising the global if his training in history had not probably made him put more stress on factual refutation of the Eurocentric imagination and thus leaving the text vulnerable to other people’s labelling. But he cuts back to say that though a great contribution, Rodney’s book was not as theoretical as the leading dependency scholars in economics.
Again, such an interesting input. The question is whether Africa’s contribution to Dependency scholarship compensates for a distinctively African theorising of the global. Knowledge may not be racial or a solo performance but all narratives bear the identity imprint of the script manager. Above all, how might Africa utilise the knowledge – power nexus if it is not putting a theoretical ware out there? Or might Taye Selassie and her Afro-politanism have done it?