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Beyond the State in Rural Uganda

Ben Jones


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In this innovative study, Ben Jones argues that scholars too often assume that the state is the most important force behind change in local political communities in Africa. Studies look to the state, and to the impact of government reforms, as ways of understanding processes of development and change. Using the example of Uganda, regarded as one of Africa's few "success stories", Jones chronicles the insignificance of the state and the marginal impact of Western development agencies. Extensive ethnographic fieldwork in a Ugandan village reveals that it is churches, the village court, and organizations based on family and kinships obligations that represent the most significant sites of innovation and social transformation.

Groundbreaking and critical in turn, Beyond the State offers a new anthropological perspective on how to think about processes of social and political change in poorer parts of the world. It should appeal to anyone interested in African development.

Key Features

  • Offers a new approach to studying development and change
  • Gives a fresh perspective on Christianity in Africa
  • Looks at problems of international development assistance
  • Provides a rich ethnographic rural study from east Africa


1. Introduction
Moving the State from the Centre
In Between "Development"
The Rest of the Book
2. Introducing Oledai
Themes that Cut Across Developments in the Village
Seniority, Prosperity, Propriety
Explaining Change in the Village
3. Teso Society through the Twentieth Century
From Stateless to Sub-Colonial
Teso through the Post-Colonial Period
The Teso Insurgency
4. The Village Court and the Withdrawn State
Away from Decentralisation
The History of the State in Teso Villages
The Actual Work of the Village Council in Oledai
5. The Pentecostal Church
The Nature of Pentecostalism
Pentecostalism in the Teso Region
The Incorporation of Pentecostalism
The Limits to Incorporation
6. The Anglican and Catholic Churches
The Historic Mission Churches in Teso
The Influence of Pentecostalism
7. Burial Societies
The Work of Burial Societies
The Genealogy of Burial Societies
Burial Societies and Local Borrowings
The Past in the Present
8. Conclusion
Churches and the Meaning Of Change
Burials, Ideas and Institutional Change
Uganda in Between
Appendix A: Research Methods
Appendix B: Interviews
Interviews Conducted in the Sub-Parish of Oledai
Interviews: Others
Participants in Group Discussions in Oledai
Participants in Group Discussions in Agolitom (Conducted in Ateso).

About the Author

Ben Jones is a Lecturer in Development Studies at the University of East Anglia. The thesis manuscript, on which the book is based, was awarded the William Robson Memorial Prize by the London School of Economics.


... a refreshing and original antidote to the myopic habits of conventional scholarship... [an] illuminating, astute, against-the-grain study of real-existing development.’
- James C. Scott, Sterling Professor of Political Science and Anthropology, Yale University
… an excellent critique of perspectives focusing on the success of a reform-minded Ugandan state. Jones portrays instead the weakness of central government in the countryside and the deleterious effects of ‘external’ development schemes. His focus is on change generated from within the local community by the coalescences and interchanges among religious and kin-based associations.
- Joan Vincent, Emeritus Professor of Anthropology, Columbia University

An accessible, intelligent and stimulating account, and a very welcome addition to the literature on Uganda.

- Tania Kaiser, School of Oriental and African Studies, Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute
Beyond the State in Rural Uganda offers a new anthropological perspective on how to think about processes of social and political change in poorer parts of the world, appealing to anyone interested in African development.
- Society Now

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