This book challenges previous assumptions about institutions, social capital, and the nature of the African state by investigating the history of political and economic change in villages on either side of the Ghana-Cote d'Ivoire border. Prior to European colonial rule, these Akan villages had very similar political and cultural institutions. By the late 1990s, however, Lauren M. MacLean found puzzling differences in the informal institutions of reciprocity and indigenous notions of citizenship. MacLean argues that divergent histories of state formation not only shape how villagers help each other but also influence how local groups and communities define citizenship and then choose to engage with the state on an everyday basis. She examines the historical construction of the state role in mediating risk at the local level across three policy areas: political administration, social service delivery, and agriculture.

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