Scholars of Africa have long expressed dissatisfaction with theoretical models that attempt to explain the political, economic and social dynamics of the continent. According to Chazan, Mortimer, Ravenhill and Rothchild (1988, 13), this situation means that “social scientists have had little alternative but to undertake a search for new conceptual frameworks that would afford a fuller insight into the dynamic processes unfolding on the continent.” Others, such as Hyden (1983, 193), argue directly that “Africa needs a new paradigm, or set of paradigms” to explain the continent's development processes. Although there often is a call to combine or integrate various paradigms, it seldom is accompanied by specific suggestions or guidelines about how to create a new theoretical approach for the study of Africa. Moreover, theoretical discussions are not normally accompanied by a call to use appropriate and innovative methodological strategies. Failure to utilize such strategies severely limits theoretical advancement, however. We introduce a relatively new strategy in social-science methodology that is ideally suited for advancing new theoretical approaches for the study of Africa.
Before introducing this strategy, we argue that current theoretical approaches to the continent are plagued by a fundamental problem. Specifically, most previous research has failed to examine how events are shaped by the interaction between phenomena at the global, national and local levels. The majority of studies focus on one or perhaps two levels, ignoring the fact that development processes are complex and depend on interaction between factors at different levels. This situation is further complicated by the fact that each level of analysis also contains a number of different categories or sub-levels.