Anthropology and Class in Africa: Challenges of the Past and Present

  • David O’Kane
  • Tabea Scharrer
Part of the Frontiers of Globalization book series (FOG)


Class has not been a permanent feature of all African societies, nor a permanently central question in Africanist anthropology. Beginning with a consideration of how anthropologists have described pre-colonial forms of socio-economic stratification and inequality, this chapter follows the different historical phases of class development in Africa, and their impact on anthropological work on the continent. It provides a review of anthropological literature informed by both the changes of the geopolitical situation in Africa and anthropology’s theoretical development. The authors conclude that there is no general anthropological theory of class in Africa, but that there are certain recurring questions about class in the continent—including the question of whether or not it is possible to speak of class at all in the African context. O’Kane and Scharrer argue that class has consistently reappeared as a key question in Africanist anthropology, especially at those moments when class issues have become politically pressing in modern African history. There is still, however, no consistent anthropological usage of the term ‘middle class’ in either the older or the more recent literature. And even though class has become a feature of social structure, it coexists with other social categories and institutions of differentiation.


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Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • David O’Kane
    • 1
  • Tabea Scharrer
    • 1
  1. 1.Max Planck Institute for Social AnthropologyHalle/SaaleGermany

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