An anthropologist who transformed our understanding of African peasant economies and societies has died.
Paul Clough was born in Washington DC in 1948. The son of a colonel in the US army, he grew up all over the world. He studied philosophy, politics and economics at Brasenose College, Oxford, taught at Ahmadu Bello University in Nigeria (1970-76) and then returned to Oxford for a DPhil. He would later recall getting into an argument as an undergraduate with a young American who “laid on thick” his Arkansas accent. Many years later, he recognised him on television as Bill Clinton.
His doctorate eventually took Professor Clough a record-breaking 19 years to complete. It involved extensive fieldwork among peasants in rural Nigeria and he initially combined it with secondary school teaching there. He would later continue his research while working for both the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, including a spell in Tanzania.
He also went on to carry out fieldwork among the Hausa people for three decades and to produce a seminal study of non-capitalist accumulation in Africa, Morality and Economic Growth in Rural West Africa: Indigenous Accumulation in Hausaland (2014). His other major publication, which he always referred to as “the Devil book”, was a collection he edited with Jon Mitchell, Powers of Good and Evil: Moralities, Commodities and Popular Belief (2001).
After joining the University of Malta as an assistant lecturer in 1993, Professor Clough remained there for the rest of his life, being promoted to associate professor in 2006 and then full professor in 2015. For many years, he was also chief editor of the Journal of Mediterranean Studies.
Peter Mayo, professor of sociology of education and adult education at the University of Malta, recalled Professor Clough as “humble, socially committed and intellectually engaging”. Largely responsible for a prestigious seminar series, he “managed to attract a number of top scholars to our university” and “had a knack for choosing the right setting for some of their presentations. I vividly recall the choice of the old Presbyterian Church in Floriana for a presentation, by German sociologist Ursula Apitzsch, on [Max] Weber’s The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism…
“What constantly amazed me and others was his ability to connect with any argument put forward by the presenters. This ability to engage in dialectical exchange with different people, and on a range of topics, attested to Paul’s stature as an intellectual.”
Professor Clough died while swimming in Malta on 25 July.
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