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Dr. Debretsion Speech at axum tsion celebration

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Yet even outside economics and politics, academic studies of Africa tend to adhere to what social scientists Andreas Wimmer and Nina Glick Schiller call “methodological nationalism”: “a naturalization of the nation-state and a view that countries are the natural units for comparative studies.” This approach, which simply assumes that the nation-state represents a coherent society, has been widely embraced, including by for-profit management consultants.

For example, Hofstede Insights, following on the work of Dutch social psychologist Geert Hofstede, has effectively commodified nationalism in advising its clients how to navigate the cultures of specific countries.

One important corollary to the “national culture” literature is the literature on national institutions, and particularly on “varieties of capitalism.” The implication is that capitalism, as a practice, differs according to the institutional configurations of nation-states. And yet, again, this entire area of scholarship falls into the trap of methodological nationalism. National coherence is simply assumed, despite the fact that many separate societies can and do exist within a nation-state.

Anyone who surveys the academic literature nowadays will find studies focused on specific organizational practices and economic systems within different African countries. Each is geared toward explaining a country through the lens of “national” culture and institutions, and thus takes for granted the colonial borders. Yet given that those borders were often poorly drawn and based on outside interests and priorities, one must question the reliability of such findings.


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