Institutions on the Upper West African Forest Edge: A Fourfold Ordering

  • Erwin Bulte
  • Paul Richards
  • Maarten Voors
Part of the Palgrave Studies in Agricultural Economics and Food Policy book series (AEFP)


The West African context provides examples of each of the four “cells” of the fourfold institutional ordering proposed by Mary Douglas. We highlight distinctive features of the different types of institutions, based on a brief fourfold characterization of West African communities: hunters and gatherers on a forest frontier (“isolate ordering”), farming communities in the forest (“enclave ordering”), merchants and warlords running long-distance trade, including the slave trade through the forest (“individual ordering”), and introduction of hierarchy via the colonial and post-colonial state (“hierarchical ordering”). Many social processes at the interface of social groups are governed by the institutional processes operating across the four elementary orderings. We can think of actual rural societies in West Africa as being governed by multiple co-existing rule sets. This requires a theory of (meta)institutions providing superordination across the cells.


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Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Erwin Bulte
    • 1
  • Paul Richards
    • 2
  • Maarten Voors
    • 1
  1. 1.Development Economics GroupWageningen University and ResearchWageningenThe Netherlands
  2. 2.Directorate of Research and PlanningNjala UniversityMokondeSierra Leone

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