Normative politics - including moral values, political ideologies, and civic ideals - are a fundamental but neglected aspect of politics on the African continent. Empirical papers will explore how core concepts are contested in political competition, and how ideas are embedded in material practices.
Normative politics - including moral values, political ideologies, and civic ideals - are a fundamental but neglected aspect of politics on the African continent. While mainstream scholars of politics in Africa have always dealt in normatively loaded concepts such as 'democracy', 'good governance', 'transparency' and 'reform' their construal of these terms has often remained implicit and assumption laden. The panel aims to bring traditional questions of political theory and ideology into African political contexts, benefitting from the advantages of contemporary empirical methodologies and approaches, primarily derived from the field of political anthropology. What are the normative ties between state and society? What makes a good ruler? In some cases the answers to these questions will continue the grand ideas of the independence era, in others new ideational configurations represent a rupture with the conventional wisdom about the aims of development. A focus on the normative and the ideational does not, however, downplay a materialist interpretation that views power, patronage, and political economy as central catalysts of social change. We should analyze these phenomena in the context of the normative frameworks in which they are embedded, viewing them not as short-circuits for normative expectations but rather as windows into them. In shifting the starting point of debates about African politics, this panel seeks to both de-otherize African politics as well as open the possibility of African politics as the source of conceptual innovation at a time when Western democracies are losing faith in the common sense normative goals of political action.