How to find an entry

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We suggest that you begin to familiarise yourself with this database in our Explore portal, where you can navigate it by browsing alphabetically, by relevant category or by geographical location. If you recognise the name of the practice or are interested in a particular country, you can go straight to the relevant entry and follow the cross-references from there.

Another way of exploring the collection is to follow the clusters of informal practices. Outsiders rarely know or recognise a local practice by its colloquial name. To overcome this problem, we have clustered practices by ‘family resemblance’, supplied illustrations where possible, and provided brief descriptions. To ensure the flow of argument from one entry to another in each cluster, we have placed similar entries next to each other so that they feed into each other, add specific detail, but also develop the general themes of ambivalence and complexity. Here we intentionally have not organised material by historical periods, geographical locations or analytical concepts, in order to follow the ‘practical sense’ of informality in clustering the entries (Bourdieu 1980/1990). Where possible, entries flow in the bottom-up logic in the chapters, thereby tracing the blurred boundaries and grey zones:

  • from more socially acceptable practices to more questionable;
  • from practices driven by survival to practices driven by self- expression;
  • from daily or regular to once- in- a- lifetime needs and the needs of others (brokerage);
  • from more visible practices to less visible (or deliberately made visible or invisible);
  • from more traditional/ universal to more modern/ temporal practices, responding to a particular constraint and disappearing when that constraint is gone.

Finally, each cluster of entries is introduced and concluded by a piece with comparative or conceptual entries, indicated as ‘general’. For example, Chapter 6 on gaming the system benefits from an introduction to the strategies of camouflage (by Philip Hanson); general entries identifying patterns common for the cluster such as cash-in-hand (by Colin Williams), brokerage (by David Jancsics), window dressing (by David Leung), and pyramid schemes (by Leonie Schiffauer); as well as a conclusion with methodological implications for the study of part- time crime and ‘camouflaged’ activities (by Gerald Mars). The authors of conceptual or reflective pieces offer possible perspectives, thematic links and further research questions in order to help the reader with the uneasy tasks of comparing the incomparable and theorising the practice. Such entries themselves constitute a ‘network expertise’ – a coordinated conceptual framework – aimed at tackling complexity through mastering paradoxes; articulating the unspoken and visualising the invisible; finding patterns in the amorphous and formalising the informal; finding similarities in differences and differences in similarities; comparing the incomparable and doing the undoable. Please note, we do not claim the absolute ubiquity of practices in respective societies. Following Olivier de Sardan’s take on culture, we understand social and cultural complexity as ‘a set of practices and representations that investigation has shown to be shared to a significant degree by a given group (or sub-group), in given fields and in given contexts’ (Olivier de Sardan 2015).

Individual entries in this Encyclopaedia present empirical material that:

  • makes the ‘informal order’ more visible through ethnography and examples;
  • refers to the key themes of ambivalence and complexity explored in the volume;
  • weaves into a critical discussion of concepts devised for tackling such practices (such as clan, patronage, nepotism, informal networks or informal institutions);
  • illustrates the strengths and weaknesses of discipline-based analysis;
  • points to existing research and new research questions;
  • suggests cross-references


Bourdieu, P. 1980/ 1990. The Logic of Practice. Translated by Richard Nice. Cambridge: Polity Press. Olivier de Sardan, J. P. 2015. ‘Africanist Traditionalist Culturalism: Analysis of a Scientific Ideology and a Plea for an Empirically Grounded Concept of Culture Encompassing Practical Norms’, pg. 84. In Real Governance and Practical Norms in Sub- Saharan Africa: The Game of the Rules, edited by T. De Herdt and J. P. Olivier de Sardan, 63– 94. London: Routledge.