Eastern African Literary and Cultural Studies Stream

Eastern African Literary and Cultural Studies Stream

The Eastern African Literary and Cultural Studies stream invites panels and papers from scholars within the region and beyond whose research focus is on the literatures and cultures from the wider Eastern African region of Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda, Burundi, South Sudan, Sudan, and the Horn of Africa. The EALCS stream particularly encourage submissions that disturb and transcend ‘traditional’ approaches to scholarship on literature and culture and signal new ways of seeing and knowing the region. Panels and papers that deal with music, theatre, written literature, oral literature, media, or any other cultural artefacts and processes from the region are anticipated. Arts and culture have played an instrumental role in the post-colonial project, and indeed in the forging of twenty-first century identities and realities, where they have actively engaged with ideas from other fields including economics, politics, history, and religion. We welcome panels that are innovative in terms of their format, including roundtables or other formats that diverge from the regular panel format.

This stream is organised by the editors and editorial board of the Eastern African Literary & Cultural Studies (EALCS) journal a pioneering international peer-reviewed journal which offers a distinctive, integrated forum for scholarship on the literature, culture and arts of the Eastern Africa region. The journal and this stream are committed to presenting new and innovative scholarship by academics based in the region.
Panel 1: Reading Africa’s Urban Scripts
Convenor: John Wakota (University of Dar es Salaam)

This panel explores the vitality and diversity of the ephemeral urban scripts circulating widely across African cities. These urban scripts are ubiquitous, moving through urban space in the form of slogans and stickers fixed on the sides of buses and motorbikes, on advertising billboards, in graffiti and in the clothes and bodies of the city’s citizens. This panel welcomes papers that seek to unpack the complexity and apparent opacity of these urban scripts, exploring how urban scripts speak to the humorous, moralistic, political and sexual mores of the city.

We welcome papers which build upon Ato Quayson’s suggestion that urban scripts are part of a wider discursive proposition and draw on other popular cultural forms including music, popular literature, folkloric materials, politics, rumours and scandals. Urban scripts are an important element in a matrix of urban cultural texts and reading them offers important insights into the social imaginary of the city and urban life in general.
Panel 2: Spectacular Sport – sport in the popular
Convenor: Simran Singh (University of Liverpool)

This panel seeks to explore the relationship between sport and popular culture in Africa. 1974 saw ‘Rumble in the Jungle’ in Zaire, the heavyweight boxing championship fight between Mohammed Ali and George Foreman, alongside a concert headlined by James Brown. Both events were the subject of the film ‘When We Were Kings’, showcasing spectacular representations of Black pride, contextualised to race and racism in the United States and Africa’s history of colonialism. More recently, South Africa hosted the 2010 FIFA World Cup, further bolstering football’s popularity across the continent. At the same time, traditional forms of martial arts, such as Laamb wrestling in Senegal continue to capture the popular imagination, gaining appreciation the world over through global entertainment flows with particular attention given to forms such as streaming media.

The fields of sport and popular culture are powerfully interconnected. For fans and spectators, sport links the everyday with the spectacular. Its global stars are mythologised in popular culture, prominent in the global entertainment industry. In Africa, as elsewhere in the world, sport and popular cultures find dialogue through common cross-marketing tactics, performative strategies and stylistic content, potently driving revenue generation and ideological content. This panel aims to generate interdisciplinary enquiry on the nature of the popularity of sport as well as representations of sport in the popular culture. It welcomes critical engagements from a range of fields and areas, including but not limited to film, literature, music and the performing arts, anthropology, politics and sociology which explore sport and popular culture as linked social and cultural domains
Panel 3: The Politics of Language in African Hip Hop
Convenor: Msia Kibona Clarke (Howard)

The question of language in African literature was debated in the 1960s and 1970s. At the heart of the debate was: who qualifies as being an African writer? and what qualifies as African literature? African authors like Ngugi wa Thiong’o and Chinua Achebe weighed in on different sides of the debate. Today a similar debate is occurring in various hip-hop communities in Africa. Similar questions have emerged: What are the qualifications for being classified as an African MC? and what qualifies as African hip-hop?

Similar to the debate over African literature, the debate over language and hip-hop in Africa is rooted in the relationship between Europe (and now the United States) and Africa. Some artists choose to perform in English, either to reach a bigger audience, or because that are more fluent in English. Some artists have advocated for artists performing in African languages. Even those that are fluent in European languages may choose to rap in an African language. There are also MCs all over Africa who mix languages. African artists often draw from different language pools to write their rhymes. In the context of Africa, MCs will often write lyrics that include a European language and/or multiple African languages.

The papers in this panel will explore the language debate in hip hop in Africa, and seeks to investigate questions around the importance of language in hip hop in Africa, the privileging of European languages over African languages, the relevance of audience reach and marketability in language choice, and how the language debate reflect the relationships Africans have with both African and European languages.


Panel 4: Contemporary African literature and the African city space
Convenor: Doseline Kiguru (Stellenbosch)

The African continent is currently experiencing the world’s most rapid urban growth. This rapid growth in urban spaces has also been captured in various ways in African literary works. This panel welcomes papers dealing with the treatment of the African city space in contemporary literary works based in the Eastern African region. It seeks to read the African city space from various lenses stretching from historical and political perspectives, to the economic and environmental angles as raised through the contemporary African literary space. The aim is to provoke debate on the representations and imaginations of the African city as presented through literary works and the significance of these imaginings today within developmental, political, and environmental lenses.

The panel discussion will look not only at the creative text but the literary production mechanisms that produce these texts, also taking note of the significance of the city space as a physical setting for literary organisations that produce such texts as well as a central theme in the narratives told through these platforms. The discussions in the panel will cover this theme from various literary genres including contemporary short digital narratives circulating in social media spaces, the place of the city as a central character in stand-up comedy, in literary award bodies and the texts produced through these avenues, as well as in government sponsored music in the region.
Panel 5: Exploring fieldwork experiences and practices in Eastern Africa
Convenors: Nikitta Dede Adjirakor (Bayreuth International Graduate School of African Studies) and Mingqing Yuan (Bayreuth International Graduate School of African Studies)

For this panel, we invite papers that address the experiences and practices of conducting fieldwork in Eastern Africa focusing especially on positionality, reflexivity and intersectionality. There are always critical disjunctions between everyday life, academic reflections and ethical field research conduct. Social and political categories such as race, gender, sexuality, age, religion, power, relationship status and nationality create a specific positionality that can challenge, disrupt or enhance the research process. Bodies that do not conform to the idealized image of a researcher are often faced with violence during this period that affects the research process. Meanwhile for literary scholars, fieldwork remains an enigma in the literary research process, why/how to integrate ethnographic methods into a literary analysis. What gains and losses do ethnographic long-term research contribute towards literary research? This question remains particularly relevant with recent turns towards affect and lived experience in the analytical and methodological dimensions of the research process. We invite contributions that are especially experientially inspired that explore the axes of differences, inequalities and geopolitics in the field, and provide a critical introspection of the place of the researcher in the field especially in academic disciplines where the ‘field’ is not so easily defined.
Panel 6: ‘Of Fragments and Fragmentation’
Convenor: Eddie Ombagi (Wits)

If we understand fragments not a mark of loss, but rather a desire to remember, how then do we calibrate our cognition of the elements that signify fragmentation? If we read these various sites as pasts that have remained in the present moment, how then do we register their multiple signs? Not as a lost era but as a memorial centre? These two panels seek to read fragments and fragmentation within the Eastern African region not as residue but as products in and of themselves. We argue that fragments need to be treated as constitutive of materiality and capable of generating subjectivity. Read as leftovers, fragments hold the productive potential that may turn out to be revolutionary to the demand for and of intellectual renewal.  For example, in every fragment, there are shreds of evidence, traces, marks, stains, scars, scabs, scaffolds and memories of a time past – that begs to be summoned. While we know that fragments collapse time within its space, so then how do we unmake our optics at that very precise moment? We invite papers from but not limited to literature, popular culture, affect, gender and identity as well as memory.

A performance-lecture on fragmentation of time and product of silence. Asking how does one represent the isolating and dislocating fragmented silence of trauma?  The performance takes fragmentation as an incomplete whole that exists in an impossible sense of time. Looking at how fragments of memory refuse to disappear, the character is kept a prisoner of history. The play looks at how when in trauma; time is not experienced in linear terms: from the vantage point of the present moment but through speculation and imagination.

Organiser: David Kerr (D.Kerr@bham.ac.uk)