Past Event

Decolonising economic thought? Possible histories from the BLDS collections

8 June 2022 13:00–14:30

Amidst calls for the decolonisation of the social sciences, histories of economic knowledge centred in the Global South can help reflect on what this might mean in practice. The British Library for Development Studies hosts a world-leading collection of economists’ writings from Asia, Africa and Latin America.

As part of a broader attempt to create the first digital archive for the history of African economic thought, this talk will explore forgotten texts written by economists in postcolonial Africa. Spanning from Burkina Faso to the Democratic Republic of Congo, the works discussed remain largely unknown outside their places of inception. And yet, this talk argues, a historical investigation of African economists’ writings can serve two purposes. Firstly, they can fill an important gap in intellectual history, allowing to retrieve and document the emergence of localised traditions of economic thinking and their global implications. Secondly, they provide a unique window to imagine what it means to decolonise economic thought.

Rather than providing a normative blueprint of the ‘correct’ way to do so, the talk will excavate some of the possible histories that can be written by putting these texts at the centre. These histories allow simultaneously to observe the assumptions and discursive strategies adopted by African social scientists, problematise their genealogies, and interrogate their political implications. These are all necessary preconditions to imagine a more inclusive and pluralistic approach to economic knowledge.


  • Gerardo Serra, Presidential Fellow in Economic Cultures at the University of Manchester. His research focuses on the history of economic thought and quantification in 20th century West Africa. His work has appeared in outlets like ‘History of Political Economy’, ‘Comparative Studies in Society and History’ and ‘The Journal of African History’. In 2016, his PhD thesis was awarded the History of Economics Society’s Joseph Dorfman Prize for the best dissertation. He is currently working on his first book, titled ‘Marching with the Times: Economic Knowledge and Political Imagination in Ghana’.
  • Tinashe Nyamunda, Associate Professor in the Department of Historical and Heritage Studies at the University of Pretoria. His main research interests are in financial history as well as informal economies in 20th and 21st century Southern Africa. The author of several books and many articles, his work has appeared in outlets like ‘The Journal of Peasant Studies’, ‘Research in the History of Economic Thought and Methodology’, ‘Journal of Southern African Studies’ and ‘African Economic History’.


  • Melissa Leach, IDS Director





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