The challenge of misunderstandings in long-distance interconnections: Encounters,
exchange and disparities in African history
Susann Baller (IHA Paris-Dakar), email@example.com
Amadou Dramé (UCAD Dakar), firstname.lastname@example.org
This panel considers situations of long-distance interconnections in African history which
produced not only encounters and exchange, but also disparities and misunderstandings. The panel explores both “creative misunderstandings” in such contexts as well as the challenge of misunderstandings when incomprehension may turn into ignorance.
This panel explores long-distance interconnections in African history by focusing on
situations of misunderstandings. We invite papers which consider travelers, traders, or other social actors who moved around long distances and who encountered situations of
incomprehension and misinterpretation. Papers may focus on the experience of those who
moved, and/or of those they met on their way, and/or on those who tried to trace or control their journey. Each approach can be situated in a “contact zone” (Pratt), where people “meet, clash and grapple with each other” in contexts of uneven power relations, and each approach can offer insights of how these encounters may have led to misunderstandings.
However, this panel wishes to go beyond the colonial encounter and analyze also other
interactions of people on the move within Africa or between Africa and other continents,
which may include precolonial encounters or those during decolonization and ndependence. Thus, not only explorers, missionaries or colonial administrators were facing the challenge of misunderstandings, but also traders, political or religious leaders, students or business people. Moreover, while papers are welcome to look at the possibilities of “creative misunderstandings”, the panel also wants to highlight the challenge of misunderstandings when incomprehension blocks any further comprehension.
Throughout African history, many examples show that encounters not always produced new ways of understanding, but rather misapprehensions, disregard and ignorance. Reasons for these misunderstandings were multiple: sometimes information was just missing, often prejudices were involved, and usually different languages interacted, all contributing to the challenge of (mis)understanding. Papers may reflect on such reasons, but are also invited to consider the consequences of misunderstanding, which may reach from (false) accusations to breaking relations, but also include complicated communication and negotiating meaning. Misunderstandings are understood in this context as a challenge which social actors on the move encounter and deal with, but may not always solve.