Past Conferences (Other)

Past Africanist conferences & events

Please send past conference reports to Simon Heap at editor(AT)asauk.net

. . .Conferences Past

ASAUK Writing Workshop for Early Career African Scholars, University of Dodoma, Tanzania, 7 July 2014. In collaboration with the University of Dodoma, and the support of the British Academy and ASAUK, I organised a Writing Workshop which took place at the University of Dodoma’s campus. It was deliberately and specifically tied to a three day international conference, Green Economy in the South, which was sponsored by UNEP, the University of Copenhagen, PLAAS (University of the Western Cape), as well as the ASAUK and was also held at, and organised by, the University of Dodoma. Participants at the workshop went on to present their work and attend panels at the conference.

One of the workshop’s goals was to provide extra support, feedback and preparation to scholars presenting their work at such international gatherings, a number of whom were doing so for the first time. Others were to enhance links between the University of Dodoma and international universities, and provide general advice on publication strategies, as well as specific support to individual papers.

On the UK, and international, side the workshop was attended by the following editors, associate editors and editorial board members of the following journals: Conservation and Society (represented by Dan Brockington and Maano Ramutsindela), Environment and Society, Environmental Conservation (represented by Dan Brockington); Review of African Political Economy (represented by Sarah Bracking) and African Affairs (represented by Stefano Ponte). In Dodoma the workshop and conference was supported by the Head of Department of Geography (Professor Abiud Kasuamila) and the Vice Chancellor of the University (Professor Idris Kikula).

Setting up the workshop piggy-backed upon conference preparations. That had been advertised internationally, with some 120 papers accepted from all over the world (India, Indonesia, New Zealand, USA, Europe) and diverse African countries (Zimbabwe, Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Ethiopia, South Africa, Swaziland, Ghana, DRC, Rwanda). Papers were presented in both English and French. Special focus for the advertising had been given to Tanzanian scholars with announcements circulated on the wazuoni list serve. The conference organising committee sifted through the original applications to attend the conference, selecting some 80 papers which showed sufficient quality. From these a number of junior African scholars, and senior African and European-based scholars with good writing and publishing experience were invited to attend the one day workshop prior to the conference. In addition to food, the workshop paid for international travel of some attendees, the travel of others was already covered by sponsorship of the conference, in which case we simply added an extra night’s accommodation. Travel-funding was only awarded to African scholars based at African Universities. 22 people attended from 20 different Universities, as well as one from an activist pressure group (Haki Ardhi).

Our main purpose was to give as much feedback as possible to junior scholars on the actual details of their writings and arguments. We were fortunate in that all the attendees were coming because they had research findings to which they wanted to speak, and papers in some form which they had prepared for this conference, with a view to getting them published eventually.

But we had other agendas too. We wanted everyone to observe that feedback in process. We also wanted people to take part in giving each other feedback, and learn from doing. We also wanted more senior scholars to receive feedback on their papers, and junior scholars to watch them doing this, as part of that learning process. Finally we wanted to ensure that the more senior and less senior scholars were not also Europe-based and Africa-based respectively. In that respect we were quite fortunate with Ramutsindela (UCT), Bracking (University of Kwa-Zulu, Natal) Ferreira-Meyers (Swaziland), Ntale (Makerere) and Noe (University of Dar es Salaam) all providing that insight while also working from African-based institutions.

To that end we divided the meeting into small reading groups (5-6 each), among which papers were pre-circulated. Each group comprised a mixture of senior scholars, editors and junior scholars. These sessions were bracketed by plenary discussions in the morning and evening.

The first plenary discussion concerned the general perils and problems of publishing. We talked through different forms of publication strategy, how to target journals and how to respond to feedback and reviews, as well as considering bounce strategies. Much of this was practical, personal and based on case-studies of previous experience.

We then split into our smaller reading groups where we dissected each other’s work. This could cover all manner of topics, including data quality and methods, but the thrust was upon the quality of the work as material for publication. Thus we were thinking about presentation of data, introductions, paragraph flow, and clarity of arguments. These reading groups were intensive and lasted several hours split by lunch.

The final plenary session of the day provided feedback on the groups. We shared what we had learnt, and also thoughts on the general organisation of workshops such as these. This, personally, was the most rewarding part of the day, as the feedback was exceptionally strong. Every participant who had submitted work was delighted with the opportunity of getting all this feedback. There were strong requests to hold further workshops. Indeed, an attendee of this workshop is helping to organise a second writing workshop that will be based in the University of Dar es Salaam.

The feedback process however did not end with the day of the writing workshop. That day provided bespoke and detailed feedback to all participants on their written work. It initiated the process of networking and discussion that continued over the next few days. Moreover all participants then got a second round of feedback and questions about their work when they participated in the panel sessions of the conference. The important point here is that, particularly for the more junior scholars, the writing workshop gave them a headstart. This was especially valuable to scholars who had not had the opportunity to take part in such networking and conferences before.

Ultimately the outcome of this sort of workshop needs to be measured in its publications. Noe’s paper was, subsequent to the revisions suggested at that workshop, accepted for further review at Conservation and Society (I am not the handling editor in this instance). There are also three sets of publication aimed at Journal of Peasant Studies, Conservation and Society and Third World Quarterly which have arisen out of the conference as a whole. Currently nine of attendees of this workshop have their papers included in these submission plans. There is still a long way to go yet. But there can be little doubt as to the long-term value of this writing workshop in supporting the publication of this work.

Finally a note as to the financial support provided. We were particularly grateful for the support of the logistician that funding provided. Dodoma is not an easy place to get to, but because of the funding we were able to employ someone based there who liaised with all the people attending to confirm travel arrangements. We also had people stationed at Dar es Salaam airport to get people to the bus station, and at Dodoma bus station to get them to the University. Again this came from the same fund. I was also supported by Gemma Haxby of RAS/ASAUK, who paid for some flights directly, and was invaluable in arranging instantly the travel which we collected. Finally our colleagues at the University of Dodoma (Thabit Jacob, Mathew Buhki and Abiud Kasuamila) were simply wonderful to work with. There was universal praise from all the participants as to the quality of the venue, food and the hospitality. My profound thanks to all who have made this possible.

Dan Brockington, University of Manchester