Identity Economics

Identity Economics

Social Networks and the Informal Economy in Nigeria

Kate Meagher


James Currey



This book is essential reading for those interested in the role of the informal economy in contemporary processes of growth and economic governance in Africa.
Why have informal enterprise networks failed to promote economic development in Africa? Although social networks were thought to offer a solution to state incapacity and market failure, the proliferation of socially embedded enterprise networks across Africa has generated disorder and economic decline rather than development. This book challenges the prevailing assumption that the problem of African development lies in bad cultural institutions by showing that informal economic governance in Nigeria is shaped, not just by culture, but by the disruptive effects of rapid liberalization, state decline and political capture.
Identity Economics traces the rise of two dynamic informal enterprise clusters in Nigeria, and explores their slide into trajectories of Pentecostalism, poverty and violent vigilantism. Drawing on over twenty years of empirical research on African informal economies, the author highlights the institutional legacies, networking strategies and globalizing dynamics that shape the regulatory role of social networks in Africa's largest and most turbulent economy. Through an ethnography of informal economic governance, this book shows how ties of ethnicity, class, gender and religion are used to restructure enterprise networks in response to contemporary economic challenges. Moving beyond primordialist interpretations of African culture, attention is drawn to the critical role of the state and the macro-economic policy environment in shaping trajectories of informal economic governance.
KATE MEAGHER is a former Research Associate at Queen Elizabeth House, University of Oxford and is currently a Lecturer in the Development Studies Institute at the London School of Economics.

Nigeria: HEBN

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February 2010
4 line illustrations
224 pages
21.6x13.8 cm
African Issues
ISBN: 9781847010162
Format: Paperback
James Currey
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Table of Contents

Introduction: Social networks & economic ungovernance in Africa
Beyond the cultural turn: Rethinking African informality
Oracles, secret societies & hometown identities: An institutional history of Igbo economic networks
Unleashing popular entrepreneurship: Informal manufacturing & economic restructuring
The scramble for weak ties: Restructuring informal enterprise networks
Negotiating the web of associational life: Popular associations & networking strategies
Collective efficiency or cutthroat cooperation?: Networks of accumulation & networks of survival
Informality, cliental networks & vigilantes: Producers' associations & the state
Missing link or missed opportunity?: Social networks & economic development in Africa


A contemporary archaeology of real institutions [as] Meagher uncovers the structures and dynamics of a political economy. JOURNAL OF AFRICA

The depth and scholarly range of the book will certainly stimulate further research on the subject of identity economics. NEW AGENDA

Informed by theory as well as sustained fieldwork, Meagher's study is a useful antidote to the purveyors of magic-bullet solutions for African development. It should be read by anyone interested in Africa's industrialization. FOREIGN AFFAIRS

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