The Journal of Modern Africa Studies First View, pp. 1-13
As taxation has become a prominent issue on the international development policy agenda, a growing body of research has focused on taxpayer perceptions and experiences of taxation. A strand of this research emphasises the importance of the historical, political and social context of taxation. We position ourselves in line with this research as we pay attention to the emic definitions of taxation in Africa across contexts, languages, and time periods. We explore how the conception of taxation in different contexts is closely interrelated with the language used to describe it, with language being a product of histories of colonialism, conflict, and extraction by social, traditional and political actors. We argue that studies of taxation, particularly survey-based research, need to be complemented, if not informed, by a deeper understanding of the diversity of tax landscapes and of the meanings ascribed to taxation in a given context. This will strengthen content and interpretive validity of taxpayer perception data as well as provide important nuances to the understanding of the dynamics of taxpayers’ experiences of contemporary states and systems of taxation.