Regional trade and economic networks in West Africa
To date, most of the literature on economic networks in West Africa has considered networks in a metaphorical way. The aim of this paper is to go one step further by showing how network analysis may be applied to the study of regional trade in West Africa. After a brief review of the literature, this exploratory paper investigates two main issues related to regional trade. We start by discussing how recent developments in regional trade in West Africa, brought on by urbanization, liberalization, and globalization, have contributed to challenging the social structure of traders. We then discuss the changes that have affected the spatiality of regional trade by looking at the influence of spatial location and geographic scale on traders’ abilities to trade. In both cases, we argue that the value of social network analysis in exploring how traders have progressively adapted to social and spatial changes in economic activities has been greatly underestimated. Through the combination of social and spatial ties, we ultimately show that the structural position of economic actors can be used to reassess the centrality of places. By doing so, the relational approach developed in this paper invites scholarship to reconsider the geographic organization of West African societies.
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