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From scattered data to ideological education: economics, statistics and the state in Ghana, 1948-1966

Serra, Gerardo (2015) From scattered data to ideological education: economics, statistics and the state in Ghana, 1948-1966. PhD thesis, London School of Economics and Political Science.

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This thesis analyses the contribution of economics and statistics in the transformation of Ghana from colonial dependency to socialist one-party state. The narrative begins in 1948, extending through the years of decolonization, and ends in 1966, when the first postcolonial government led by Kwame Nkrumah was overthrown by a military coup d’état. Drawing on insights from political economy, the history of economics and the sociology of science, the study is constructed as a series of microhistories of public institutions, social scientists, statistical enquiries and development plans. In the period under consideration economics and statistics underwent a radical transformation in their political use. This transformation is epitomised by the two extremes mentioned in the title: the ‘scattered data’ of 1950s household budget surveys were expression of the limited will and capacity of the colonial state to exercise control over different areas of the country. In contrast, the 1960s dream of a monolithic one-party state led the political rulers to use Marxist-Leninist political economy as a cornerstone of the ideological education aiming at creating the ideal citizen of the socialist regime. Based on research in British and Ghanaian archives, the study claims that economists and statisticians provided important cognitive tools to imagine competing alternatives to the postcolonial nation state, finding its most extreme version in the attempt to fashion a new type of economics supporting Nkrumah’s dream of a Pan-African political and economic union. At a more general level, the thesis provides a step towards a deeper incorporation of Sub-Saharan Africa in the history of economics and statistics, by depicting it not simply as an importer of ideas and scientific practices, but as a site in which the interaction of local and foreign political and scientific visions turned economics and statistics into powerful tools of social engineering. These tools created new spaces for political support and dissent, and shifted the boundaries between the possible and the utopian.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Additional Information: © 2015 Gerardo Serra
Library of Congress subject classification: H Social Sciences > HC Economic History and Conditions
Sets: Departments > Economic History
Supervisor: Morgan, Mary and Gardner, Leigh

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