Social science research: Behavioral responses to development, 1919-1950

The application of social science research for development was first mentioned in the early twentieth century, but implementation did not start until the 1950s.1 In re-appraising the history of social science research in East Africa, we might therefore need to understand the processes and extent to which African societies responded to development changes.2 The fundamental question of social science research was to understand whether or not the responses by African societies to development initiatives were predetermined by their social, ecological and cultural conditions, which in turn influenced their decisions.5 We investigate this question in the current chapter.

Our analysis focuses on four perspectives in turn. The first perspective is understanding the history of social science research in the light of the economic behavior of East African societies. In doing so, we hope to unravel the socio-ecological factors that might explain the reasons why and how societies responded to development initiatives in different ways.4 The second perspective is understanding how the responses of African societies to development initiatives may be influenced by socio-cultural ecology'. The third perspective is understanding the impact of colonial policies on the responses of African societies. In particular, we investigate how close links between the work of social scientists and technical and administrative officials informed development policies that in turn transformed African systems of production.’ In this case, it is interesting to understand the scientific rationality used by colonial officials in dealing with development endeavors that affected a variety of social-cultural systems.6 The fourth perspective is understanding comparative responses to development initiatives by various African societies—that is, those who practiced agricultural, agro-pastoral and pastoral economies. In each case, implications for environmental crisis associated with social responses to development will be identified.

History of social science research in East Africa

The history of social science research in East Africa can be traced back to 1919 when practical applications of social science were first mentioned. In 1928, the International African Institute developed a five-year plan to coordinate scientific research activities with practical applications of the findings. The Rhodes-Livingstone Institute in what was Northern Rhodesia (present-day Zambia) proposed the coordination of social science research activities across southern and eastern Africa.' The driving force behind this initiative was to respond to discontent among African people over land that had been transferred to European settlers (e.g., in Kenya), land tenure changes, and the introduction of new policies—including settling mobile herders into grazing schemes.8 The complex webs of African subsistence economies—and colonial ideas about economic progress and environmental conservation—influenced African people’s social behavior and their attitude towards development. These factors received attention from the 1930s through the war years and the post-war periods. At the time in the 1930s, social anthropologists conducted in-depth studies of individual communities to interpret how African societies in general responded to colonial development interventions.4

The goal of social science research in that context was to facilitate the identification of individual or collective social behaviors towards new projects, and thus facilitate decision making. From 1944 to 1962 the British Colonial Social Science Research Council (CSSRC) provided budgetary allocations of £500,000 per annum to develop research that had direct applications in support of processes of social change across the East African colonies.10 However, the application of social science research faced two contrasting viewpoints about promoting development.

The first viewpoint was to expect social science researchers to develop universal theories and methods that would investigate social problems objectively. The second viewpoint associated social science research with project implementation (see Chapter 7). By training colonial administrators in social sciences it was perceived that they would be better facilitators of government programs to meet the social and development needs of the colonized people.11 The proponents of the latter view proposed that the training of social scientists should be tailor-made to the needs of the colonial governments. The opponents of this viewpoint (i.e., the first viewpoint) expressed their displeasure that government demands would force social scientists to focus more on practical problems and less on building theories and new scientific methods. They claimed that this would run the risk of lowering standards in social science research.12 Conversely, the proponents of the second viewpoint added that social anthropologists working with colonial officials would benefit from transitioning from theoretical to practical actions prompted by lessons learned from development projects.1’ For social anthropologists the priority was in ethnographic encounters with African societies.14

Ethnographic encounters with African societies

Walter Goldschmidt1’ describes ‘ethnographic encounters’ in our context as anthropological investigations into how cultural practices influenced peasants, pastoralists and agro-pastoralists in their responses to develop- ment changes. We consider case studies by anthropologists in East Africa by briefly reviewing the ideas of H. Schneider and colleagues16 who investigated the so-called ‘resistance to change’ by pastoralists and the comments on their work by other anthropologists who had opposite views. In their analysis, the anthropologists attempted to classify communities on a scale of development receptivity; this varied from agriculturalists being the most receptive groups to pastoralists being the least receptive. In his comments, Francis P. Conant considers the views of Schneider about responses by farming and herding societies to development change as being incompatible. In Conant’s view, pastoralists have always accommodated changes such as occasional cultivations during perturbations when environmental and economic conditions warranted it. In response to H. Schneider and colleagues’1'analysis, Andras Csanedy views the responses in terms of how different societies regard livestock as a medium of exchange. Conversely, in the view of Lenora Greenbaum18 one needs to differentiate between development and economic change. Pastoralists may have shown resistance to development programs, but not necessarily to economic changes. Green- baum opines that pastoralists showed no resistance to development if the venture was based on the indigenous economy. Kendall Blanchard,19 in the same discussion, considers that since pastoralism operates within narrow ranges of environmental constraints to optimize livestock production, pastoralists were genuinely suspicious of changes that could jeopardize their production.

If as Schneider and colleagues suggest, ‘development occurs when a change in any of the variables related to [spreading risks] between production costs and ... new investment capital,’ then what changes would be required to bring about development among African economies? How would these changes influence wealth accumulation of herds (among pastoralists) or expansion of crop production (by peasants)? These types of questions have interested cultural ecologists who compared different communities pursuing different economic strategies.20 In particular, anthropologists working in East Africa were interested in how diverse pastoral, agro-pastoral and agricultural communities responded positively to development innovations in the adoption of new technologies. As we show in the remaining part of this chapter, social resistance to development might be a colonial myth. What was referred to as ‘resistance’ was in fact simply the processes that African societies used when responding to colonial development initiatives.

We begin by focusing on pastoralist and farming societies and the various ways in which these two production systems responded to development changes. The responses of pastoral production systems towards development (including behavioral changes) were influenced by variables such as the ecology of the pastoral environment and herders’ relationships with the livestock that they owned. Pastoralists need to make decisions contingent on the requirements of their herds and prevailing environmental con- ditions, which often oblige them into mobility. A herder’s loss of capacity to manage livestock mobility constituted major risks to his economy. Under the transformed land-use policies, herd growth was no longer under the management of herders. Henceforward, herd growth would reflect the environmental and political situations.

Conversely, crop cultivation practices were influenced differently, since crops are viewed as fixed assets (as opposed to mobile assets). Among African peasants, an individual loses access to his fixed land assets when displaced but has the possibility of adjusting in a new environment. Additionally, although farming cycles are subject to seasonal variations, farmers simply must accept losses during adverse environmental conditions. Therefore besides crop cultivation, African peasants maintained small herds as an adaptive strategy to highly variable environments21—in order to spread their risks, as it were. Taken in this context, risk aversion is an inbuilt part of indigenous strategies in variable environments.

Thus, for African herding communities, shifting production to western types of economies was unlikely to offer incentives; instead it would involve changes in land tenure from communal to private land holdings, and reduction of herds without providing alternative economic opportunities. The foregoing discussion offers an idea of what to expect in terms of societies’ responses to development programs based on socio-ecological systems of production.

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