AFRICA: Journal of the International African Institute

AFRICA: Journal of the International African Institute. ASAUK 2020, proposed stream

 Africa is the premier journal devoted to the study of African societies and culture. It aims to give increased attention to African production of knowledge, highlighting the work of local African thinkers and writers, emerging social and cultural trends ‘on the ground’, and links between local and national levels of society. This stream, with panels organised by editorial board members of the journal, considers its place in the production of knowledge beginning with people’s own perspectives and priorities. The final panel focuses on the circulation of research post-publication.

1. The lived experiences of the African middle classes
Convenor: Deborah James (LSE)

What are the experiences of the African middle classes, and what do their experiences tell us about social change on the continent? While there have been ample attempts to demarcate the parameters of this social group, the necessary work of tracing the social life and social relations of the middle classes is just beginning. This panel features presentations from a newly published Special Issue of the journal Africa including on ‘Ghana’s middle classes in the making’, and health work and professional insecurity in South Africa. Conceptual challenges involved in studying Africa’s middle classes and comparative perspectives with other regions will also be addressed. In addition, panellists will discuss some recently published monographs with strong ‘middle class’ themes reviewed in Africa, including work by Mark Hunter, Rachel Spronk and Jason Sumich.

2. Through the Prism of Popular Culture: Living Extractivisms in the Gulf of Guinea
Convenors: David Pratten (University of Oxford), Paul Ugor (Illinois State University) and Rogers Orock (University of the Witwatersrand)

For anthropologists, one of the most powerful ways of ‘knowing’ how lives are defined and lived in ‘hard places’ is by direct, participant observation among the communities we study. But there are certainly other ways of gaining insights into the inner workings of a culture beyond the anthropological lens. How might we study and engage other ways through which these communities see and experience their ‘hard’ lives without references to participant observation? Karin Barber for example makes a strong case for the potential of popular cultural forms to provide important understandings about the varied cultures in Africa, arguing that ‘Art forms do not merely reflect an already-constituted consciousness, giving us a window onto something already fully present. They are themselves important means through which consciousness is articulated and communicated’. Barber was pointing to the powerful ways in which popular art forms created by ordinary people have the capacity to pick up the hidden currents or forces that shape how a society and its culture function. It is the surplus meanings embedded in popular cultural forms and what those meanings might tell us about ongoing struggles in Africa that this project aims to explore. In postcolonial Africa, Wale Adebanwi and Ebenezer Obadare have broadly suggested that everyday life is characterized by a ‘crisis of rule’. How do people understand and represent how such misrule and the multiple forms of resource extractivisms shape their everyday individual and collective lives? We are particularly interested in exploring the ways in which popular arts, as Stuart Hall suggested, function as a site of struggles in Africa.

To address these questions, our panel(s) takes its ethnographic setting or context to be states in the Gulf of Guinea. This is an expansive area covering the north-eastern part of the tropical Atlantic Ocean of West Africa. The area straddles Anglophone, Francophone and Hispanophone countries totaling 15 states (including Liberia, Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana, Togo, Benin, Nigeria, Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, São Tomé and Príncipe, Congo Republic, DR Congo, and Angola). Almost all of these postcolonial African states are mired in interminable and perennial contestations about processes of mineral extraction such as crude oil, diamond, gold, coal, copper, rubber, etc. Focusing essentially on popular cultural forms, that is, cultural texts such as popular music, movies, literary productions, theatre, stories in the mass media, etc., we invite papers that sense, evoke, and critically discuss the multiple practices of cultural critique in these popular genres, especially in relation to extractivisms and a broad sense of catastrophic governance.

3. Religion in Africa: Multiple, Relational, Mediated
Convenors: Benjamin Soares (University of Florida), Shobana Shankar (Stony Brook University), Marloes Janson (SOAS University of London) and Asonzeh Ukah (University of Cape Town)

Although many have studied religion in Africa, how to approach Africa’s religious diversity (or plurality) analytically has surprisingly still not received sufficient attention. This panel focuses on Africa’s complex and dynamic religious landscapes. In doing so, it follows moves to focus on religion as multiple, that is, taking multiplicity as the default in the study of religion, rather than working from reified, bounded ‘traditions’ in a particular setting or point in time. At the same time, the panel underscores how religion must be analyzed as relational. That is, it works from the premise that one must understand the relations between various ‘traditions’ and actors over space and time in the constitution and sometimes co-constitution of various ‘traditions.’ Moreover, such relationality also entails reified definitions of the ‘Other’, as well as state management of ‘religion’ and its implications. The panel also wants to draw attention to the intersection of different ways of being religious and media and the implications of such mediation for understanding religious diversity and dynamic religious landscapes. This panel invites papers that explore how religion in Africa – multiple, relational, mediated — can be approached conceptually as well as empirically across space and time.

4. Forced migration and vulnerable livelihoods
Convenor: Fred Ikanda (Maseno University, Kenya)

The problem of forced migration is a growing worldwide concern. This is particularly the case in Sub-Saharan Africa where people are increasingly crossing international borders either as refugees or economic migrants due to warfare, famine, and poor economic conditions in their countries of origin. These people are, however increasingly encountering closed borders after embarking on tragic-laden journeys to dream destinations. This panel invites papers studying the long-term impact of forced migration on migrants and hosting communities. It hopes to bring together knowledge producers and practitioners to reflect on issues of forced migration in the sub-Saharan African region. Applying ethnographic approaches, we wish to generate discussions with and about different stakeholders including government agencies and other institutional actors in the region. We also hope for ethnographic papers that will inform policy and programming for humanitarian assistance to the migrant populations on the continent. As such, we broadly aim to generate a conversation that will be aimed at broadening discussions on the challenge of forced migration and the framework in which forced migration is studied. We anticipate a conversation that will enhance an agenda for supporting the emerging thinking around durable solutions to the forced migration challenge. It is hoped that this conversation will produce evidence for policy engagement and programming around humanitarian and development responses to forced migration by governments in the region, international and regional institutions, as well as other stakeholders. Papers are expected to discuss studies around migrant rights, access to justice, vulnerabilities engendered by migration, migrants access to basic services (health, education, water and sanitation, food security), crises and consequences of forced migration dynamics, and migrant-host community relationships.

5. Representations of Community and Lineage in Rural Development 
Convenor: Kojo Amanor (University of Ghana)

The community and community values feature heavily in contemporary rural development, but the lineage is largely absent. Surveys are usually carried out through focus groups representing ‘community’ or at individual or household level. The social and political relations of households to lineages are rarely considered now. Yet in many areas’ lineages have played an important role in social, political and economic life. For instance, the land questions has been reduced to an issue of community management and market integration, with scant regard for lineages. Yet most of the old anthropological literature depicts land as been vested in corporate lineages not communities.  In contrast with corporate lineages, the community is often an abstract or imagined group, which expresses some notion of inclusive belonging. In contrast, the lineage is a bounded concept that expresses both inclusion and exclusion, and reflects notions of privilege. Historically this extended into the horizontal and vertical integration of different settlements and hierarchies of settlements, in which urban based nobles controlled rural farms and properties which were integrated through their extended families. This panel explores notions of the communitarian and family in the history of Africa and contemporary development frameworks. 

6. How Do I Get My Book Reviewed? The politics of knowledge production and dissemination
Convenors: Elizabeth Hull (SOAS and Book Reviews Editor, Africa) and Raga Makawi (Assistant Book Reviews Editor & Social Media Editor, Africa)

The panel explores the place of book reviews in a transforming landscape of knowledge production. The book review has long been a staple of the academic research environment. Yet with the rise of social media, open-access publishing, an emerging ‘decolonising’ agenda and a proliferation of knowledge production, its role and readership must surely be changing. Bringing together editors, reviewers and reviewed from Africa’s book review section, we will open up a conversation about the post-publication process, debating a range of questions: Who reads book reviews and why? What is the role of book reviews sections for increasing the visibility of work produced by young researchers, faced with pressures to ‘publish or perish’? How can we work with authors and publishers on the African continent to overcome barriers and increase inclusion? What is the role of social media, both as an alternative arena of debate and as an avenue for promoting reviews? And for first-time authors, we ask the essential question: how do I get my book reviewed? The panel introduces the academic community to Africa’s book review section and welcomes ideas for how we might promote and further develop the section, to make the most of the changing knowledge production process with an emphasis on continuity and relevance.

7. Ironies of Solidarity: Insurance and Financialization of Kinship in South Africa
Speakers: Author Erik Baehre (Leiden), Elizabeth Hull (SOAS), Maxim Bolt (Oxford)

The book discussion with Erik Baehre will look at how financial products and services affect inequalities and conflicts in South Africa. Set in one of the world’s most unequal and violent places, this ethnographic study reveals how insurance companies discovered a vast market of predominantly poor African clients. After apartheid ended in 1994, South Africa became a ‘testing ground’ for new insurance products, new marketing techniques and pioneering administrative models with a potentially global market. Drawing on Rorty’s notion of irony for understanding how the contradictions inherent to solidarity affect inequality and conflict as well as drawing on a vast array of case studies, Ironies of Solidarity examines how both Africans enjoy the freedoms that they have gained in financial terms and how the onset of democracy effected the risks faced in everyday life. Bähre examines the ways in which policies are sold and claims are handled, offering a detailed analysis of South Africa’s insurance sector.

8. African Arguments Book Series and Blog
Convenors: Stephanie Kitchen, Managing Editor, International African Institute and James Wan, Editor, African Arguments online

This session is co-organised by the International African Institute and Royal African Society. The aim of the African Arguments book series (published by the IAI and Zed Books) is to engage writing and research on topical African issues both within and beyond the academy. The series publishes (in paperback and online) research and long-format journalism that engages with policy work, activism and the public at large. Books have been published or are in production on digital politics (Nanjala Nyabola), politics and Pentecostalism (Ebenezer Obadare), Africa’s relationships with Israel (Yotam Gidron), and India-Africa relations (Shobana Shankar). Country studies making wider empirical and theoretical contributions are also welcome in the series. Some recent books cover South Sudan (Rachel Ibreck) and Zimbabwe (David Moore).

The associated blogsite is highly successful attracting some 100,000 hits monthly. The blog publishes weekly articles on African political and cultural issues.

Editors involved in the series and blog, and recent authors, will lead a round-table style discussion that all are welcome to attend and participate in.
Participants: Yotam Gidron, David Moore, Shobana Shankar, James Wan
Chair: Stephanie Kitchen


Organisers: Maxim Bolt ( and Stephanie Kitchen (