Socializing knowledge: The production and circulation of social science in Malawi, 1964–2004

Dana G Holland, University of Pennsylvania


This dissertation examines the institutionalization of the social sciences in the Central African country of Malawi. The sociology of the social sciences has generally focused on historical developments in the United States and Europe. In these settings, the authority of the university and the state---and the changing relationship between them---has been identified as particularly influential on the social sciences. However, to assume symmetry between the nation-state and political authority is inadequate in many "developing" countries, where international agents play active roles in policy formation, research sponsorship, and the financing or not of the activities of the state. Malawi represents a particularly good case for examining the intersection of local and international influences on the social sciences because of the changing configurations of authority since independence in 1964. The objective of the research is to understand the influences---internal and external---on the national institutionalization of the social sciences in Malawi; and in turn, to understand the consequences of the institutionalization of the social sciences on Malawi. This entails three central questions: How have the professional markets for social science developed over time? How have producers and their core institutions, the university and disciplinary communities, been configured? And, how have intellectual products, values, and commitments been shaped as a result? Since the object of inquiry is extended over multiple sites and scales, a multi-sited approach to ethnography was used. Data collection combined interviews, participant observation, and document analysis, including archival materials, newspaper articles, research reports, policy papers, and planning documents. Today, professional life for the majority of social scientists in Malawi involves navigation in a bifurcated field, in which academic values circulate uneasily with entrepreneurial ones. Contrary to external agents' past emphasis on local institution-building, current neglect of these same institutions is contributing to de-credentialing and de-institutionalization. Ironically, this is occurring concurrently with rising market demand for social scientific expertise; and, in contrast to predictions of the social sciences' diminishment in increasingly capitalist conditions, findings here suggest that emphasis on the application of research to development problems favors social science vis-à-vis natural science.

Subject Area

Social structure|Higher education|Social research

Recommended Citation

Holland, Dana G, "Socializing knowledge: The production and circulation of social science in Malawi, 1964–2004" (2006). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI3211085.