THE preceding pages have attempted to survey what is known, and what has been written, about the economic relationships between Britain and Tropical Africa and about the British impact upon the material life of a major world region. It will have become clear that there is no closely joined debate over the broad contours of these matters. Discussion has been liveliest and most productive, throwing up fresh evidence, pushing forward theoretical perspectives and refining methodological techniques, over what can be termed middle-order problems: the use of the ‘vent-for-surplus’ model, for example, or the alleged ‘proletarianisation’ of the African rural societies in settler-dominated economies. New intermediate-tier debates will undoubtedly emerge in the future as part of the shift of historical focus into new areas, like ecology, demography or climatology, and as the archives for the late colonial period begin to open up. But on the upper order questions — how to summarise the colonial period in African economic history — there is more of a mêlée and confusion of purpose than a hard exchange of views on an agenda of agreed issues. The four traditions of scholarship — the imperial, the liberal, the dependency, and the Marxist — whose styles and differing approaches give a flavour and texture to African economic historiography, prove on closer examination to talk, or rather write, past each other more frequently than they engage in dialogue.
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