Disciplining, knowing, remaking Africa: Exploring knowledge practices that have informed, resisted, or transformed ‘the Africa gaze’

Disciplining, knowing, remaking Africa: Exploring knowledge practices that have informed, resisted, or transformed ‘the Africa gaze’

The panels in this thread focus on different knowledge practices (past, present and future), and contests there-over, which have constituted and continue to constitute how Africa, as a place, as a continent, but also an idea, has been framed, understood, and disciplined since the late 19th century. It may include panels that are specifically disciplinary in focus, but also envisages panels that that take disciplinary divisions of knowledge production about Africa as their critical focus, as well as those that re-visit older debates about how claims to multi-, inter- and cross- disciplinarity have been central to constituting the very idea of ‘area’ studies, historically and politically. Part of the aim is to consider and revisit such older debates about the politics of knowledge through the lenses of more current concerns. These current concerns include the proliferating and widely-lauded, but often ill-defined calls to ‘decolonise’ the academy, which themselves can be seen as the latest instalment of much older ‘postcolonial’ deliberations and analysis, even if this older history of debate is sometimes marginalised and ignored in the urgency of contemporary arguments. Other current lenses through which older debates about the politics of knowledge and ways of knowing in, across and on Africa might be revisited, could include a focus on, for example: hybrid knowledge practices emergent in the context of the anthropocene and new communication technologies; the effects of late capitalist, neo-liberal processes of up-scaling ‘big data’ for exploitative or productive commercial or political purposes; new forms of ‘lawfare’ emergent from the transforming roles, impact and functions of international and regional organisations and collaborations (from SADC to the AU to BRICS, the G20 and so on); as well as the deepening and shifting politics of indigenisation and Africanisation, and how they are linked to resurgent nationalisms, parochialisms, and sometimes xenophobia. They might also include the effects of new religious movements, and the alternative frameworks/processes of being and knowing that they offer, including the ‘radicalisation’ that often accompanies Pentecostal and Islamic revival movements. The salience of these contemporary foci for re-considering the politics of knowing ‘Africa’, does not, by any means, preclude historical panels seeking to re-consider the effects of particular movements, moments, endurances and transformations in the past; ranging, for example, from cold war politics and the peculiarities of how the rapid decolonisation of the mid-20th century was manifest in particular places, to the deeper historical influences of factors predating both late 19th century colonialism and 20th century decolonisation, like Indian ocean trade links or the dynamics of ‘internal’ political, economic, social and cultural transitions within the continent, such as the dramatic ripples of the Mfecane in southern Africa, or of the Mhadist wars in Sudan and Ethiopia in the 1880s, to name only two examples. What holds panels in this thread together is a concern with the politics of knowing, and of contested ways of knowing, and thereby also of disciplining and remaking ‘Africa’, as a place, a continent and an idea; a politics in which scholars, as well as politicians, policy makers, activists, public intellectuals, artists, and other thinkers, are unusually invested, complicit and sometimes compromised.

Two panels:

1) “What has ‘development studies’ done for Africa and how is it changing?”
Convenor: David Moore (UJ)
‘Development’ has been a prominent interdisciplinary approach to ‘African Studies’ since (especially) the Cold War, but with significant preludes in earlier phases of ‘late colonialism’. It has altered and transformed in significant ways, aligned with changes in the global political economy and African social formations since the end of the cold war (up to and including recent ‘decolonisation’ discourses), resulting in a diverse amalgam of analysis and practice with varying degrees of coherence. This panel will seek to interrogate these changes and attempt to discern and deconstruct their scholarly and political-economic effects.

2) Rethinking African Masculinities
Convenors: Suzall Timm & Andile Mayekiso (UJ)
In public discourses or even within academia, there remains a tendency, both methodologically and theoretically, to regard, poor, marginalised Black men as different from other men elsewhere, especially perhaps ‘rich’ ‘white’ men in the ‘west’. In particular, ‘African masculinities’, when associated with black male bodies, are often conceptualised and essentialized as dangerous and harmful. While hierarchical power relations exist between men, so-called powerless men often share with the powerful men similar aspirations to attain or maintain some form of local hegemonic male supremacy, even if these are based on imagined notions of manhood. There remains a need to put so-called ‘ordinary men’ into the spotlight, in order to explore how theories of African masculinities diverge or converge with the ‘everyday’ lives of ‘ordinary men’, and with the activities of those activists who seek to work with them.  The purpose of this panel is to examine the politics of how ‘African masculinities’ are theorised in development contexts. The panel will bring together academics and activists from different sectors, to critically engage with, and reflect upon the politics that underpins, the question of how ‘African masculinities’ have been theorised, and how these theorisations have been put into praxis in different ‘development’ contexts.

Organiser: Joost Fontein (jfontein@uj.ac.za) and David Moore (dbmoore@uj.ac.za )

Image credit: Detail of work ‘Untitled’ by Fawaz El Said, a Sudanese artist based at Kuona Trust in Nairobi.