The lens moral economy and agency

Certain concepts could be useful for the task. The notion of 'moral economy', employed by the social historian E. P. Thompson to describe the failure by those in authority in early modern England to meet traditional and customary obligations towards the ruled, may be helpful. Thompson characterised those expectations, embodied in values and roughly approximating to a consensus, as 'moral economy'. This concept could apply to the context of colonial Christianity in which the original motives included saving Africans from the evil caused by the nefarious slave trade, obeying the Great Commission, and bringingthe resources ofthe kingdom of Godto the continent. Within the colonial structure built on the tripod of civil administration, legitimate trade and judiciary, missionaries through their new socialising techniques constructed a civilising moral economy. To the extent that internal contradictions and discernible benefits existed within the structure, the new indigenous members were compelled to respond to the structure. By structure is meant the ways social forces constrained, shaped and/or determined human behaviour within such contexts.

Another dimension to the maintenance of the structure or moral economy is the concept of legibility. Indigenous people could be rendered 'legible' by using simple characterisations, forms of representation that essentialised, and employed stereotypes, simplifications and prejudices. Nineteenth-century missionaries constructed physical and psychological tools for 'reading' the new converts. The mission compound and its allocation of space, the regimen in boarding schools and mission compounds, ethical boundaries, character formation strategies and the dynamics of church polity were all designed to make the converts legible. Here, a variation of rational choice theory becomes helpful, arguing that individuals and communities respond to structures by choosing either to accept them with loyalty, or to voice their dissent, or even to take measures to exit from them. A loyalist may be an unsatisfied customer

3 Fyfe, Africanus Horton.

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