Critical Reflections on Knowledge Production and Representation in African Studies
Alzbeta Sváblová, University of Bayreuth
Diana B. Kisakye, University of Bayreuth
Serawit B. Debele, MPI, Göttingen
By challenging dichotomies of the West and the rest, we call for critical reflections on the
problematics that continue to permeate knowledge production within African Studies. We
welcome theoretical and methodological approaches transcending the power imbued
binaries while acknowledging alternatives on what constitutes knowledge on Africa.
This panel questions the underlying processes and practices of knowledge production in
and on Africa today. Over the years the continent has been characterised by peculiar
absence or lack. The ideology, myth and discourse that invented ‘Africa’ reduce ‘it’ to an
‘entity’ destined to follow the footsteps of and wait to catch up with the West, the dominant body that sets the standards. The continent is depicted as a site not worthy of any serious historical, philosophical, epistemological and theoretical engagement but as one that deals with the immediacy of life, not moving forward and hence devoid of ‘progress’. This is supplemented by ongoing forms of knowledge production as the means by which “the West” distinguishes itself from “the rest”. Theory and method are used to posit Africa within the “kingdom of ethnography”, making it a site from where data are generated to test theories developed in the West. Despite a relentless critique of such notions, the continent is still juxtaposed as traditional, uncivilised, backward and so on against the modern, civilised, literate and so on West. Research practices and theory building within African Studies are trapped by this dichotomy, as well as by numerous negations and exclusions, repeatedly associating Africa with precarity (such as weak states, disease, civil war etc).
In keeping with the theme of the conference, we call for decolonial approaches to
challenge the Eurocentric assumptions that still linger within African Studies. We seek to
challenge existing ontological assumptions, epistemologies and representations in order to
ask how Africanist scholarship can move away from perpetuating (neo)colonial relations in the realm of knowledge production. We welcome contributions that interrogate hierarchies of knowledge by introducing methodological and theoretical approaches that transcend the hierarchical dichotomies.