Ideas of growth — biological, economic, social, technological — have been embraced as progress across colonial, nation-building, and development projects. We seek to trouble commonsense understandings of growth and reflect on alternative ways of imaging historical and social change in Africa.
Ideas of growth — biological, economic, social, and technological — have long been embraced as progress across a range of colonial, modernist nation-building, and development projects across Africa. The ideology of limitless growth fueled by colonial, nationalist, and neoliberal imaginaries has provided an enduring normative trajectory for societal development, an often-empty promise of catching up and of prosperity for all. In spite of mixed success, growth remains a mostly unchallenged measure of economic performance and often of successful politics. Yet, growth increasingly also menaces. Unprecedented environmental disasters, pollution, and species extinction draw attention to neglected costs of unhampered economic growth that only seem exacerbated by the specters of burgeoning African populations. This panel troubles the idea of growth by examining the histories and social lives of growth in African settings. We seek to challenge commonsense understandings and closely scrutinize the ideas, images, and ideals of growth that we encounter in our research sites. We invite papers that: offer genealogies of notions of growth in Africa from diverse moments from the precolonial to the present; interrogate the methods and practices by which growth is rendered obvious, natural, or inevitable in policy and development projects (e.g. graphs, tables, and other means of visualization); attend to multiple and sometimes competing ideas about the means and ends of growth as defined by different actors; or to attend to alternative ways of defining and assessing wellbeing that do not necessarily mobilize vocabularies of growth.