Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
David Ralph Matthews
The conventional study of social change had tended to perceive the values, attitudes, and cultural institutions of non-Western peoples as "obstacles" to the "rational" organization of society. Policy makers, "modernizing" states and "development" agencies have sought to create institutions which would supposedly diffuse values needed to promote rationality. Though this Modernist position has been severely criticized in the last two and a half decades by Dependency, Underdevelopment and Marxist theorists, the critics themselves have not departed from some of the fundamentally Eurocentric premises of Modernism. Despite the recognition of the role played by the historical linkages between the Western Europe, Africa, Asia and Latin America in precipitating the condition described as "underdevelopment", it is taken for granted that the desired goal of "development" is the creation of Western type "advanced" societies. The case of the Bassa indicates the dreams and aspirations of the targets of "development", may differ fundamentally from the agendas of governments and development agencies. People in rural communities like the Bassa have their "development" agenda, an agenda informed by priorities derived from their unique historical experiences. Their case suggests that some of the questions development planners and theorists must start addressing are: What do the people themselves want? What are their dreams? What are their visions of the "good life"? In what context(s) are these aspirations formed? Can these be legislated or thought for them by planners and experts? The Bassa case shows that historical experiences are processed and reconstructed through cultural reference points and go on to inform a community's sense of "Who we are" "What is good for us" and "What we want". As communities transform their consciousness and behaviour patterns, new identities emerge. These identities become the instrument for the bestowal of roles in relation to the definition of their sense of "our problems". For the Bassa, struggling for power with their neighbours has involved reformulating the meaning of being "Bassa" in the late 20th century. Assailing "community-powerlessness" has meant developing new definitions for age-old institutions and reinterpreting the value of formal education. Their story shows culture is not the "iron-caged debris" of bygone ages. Rather, culture is as alive as the human beings who create it and for whom it is a reference point for action. The Bassa experience suggests culture is a dynamic sense of collective history and "group consciousness" which is transformed as new challenges to survival emerge.
Tukura, David Wodi, "The transformation of the Bassa: A study in culture, identity and social change, 1830-1987" (1993). Open Access Dissertations and Theses. Paper 3888.