C. Decker and E. McMahon, "The Idea of Development in Africa: A History" (Cambridge UP, 2020)

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The Idea of Development in Africa: A History (Cambridge UP, 2020) challenges prevailing international development discourses about the continent, by tracing the history of ideas, practices, and 'problems' of development used in Africa. In doing so, it offers an innovative approach to examining the history and culture of development through the lens of the development episteme, which has been foundational to the 'idea of Africa' in western discourses since the early 1800s. The study weaves together an historical narrative of how the idea of development emerged with an account of the policies and practices of development in colonial and postcolonial Africa. The book highlights four enduring themes in African development, including their present-day ramifications: domesticity, education, health, and industrialization. Offering a balance between historical overview and analysis of past and present case studies, Elisabeth McMahon and Corrie Decker demonstrate that Africans have always co-opted, challenged, and reformed the idea of development, even as the western-centric development episteme presumes a one-way flow of ideas and funding from the West to Africa.

Elisa Prosperetti is a Visiting Assistant Professor in African history at Mount Holyoke College. Her research focuses on the connected histories of education and development in postcolonial West Africa. Contact her at here.

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