Monday, October 23, 2017

From a Visiting Student at an African University

I was a bit surprised when I did a few "guest lectures" for a UDSM [University of Dar es Salaam] politics option course, "Legislatures and and legislative processes in Africa", that the lectures I listened to were all about Hobbes and Locke. For the few weeks I was part of it, I was the only one to talk about an African institution. It struck me that there was something odd going on there. 

Now teaching "comparative government" back in Oxford, I can also appreciate how African scholars (or even Africanist scholars for that matter) are almost entirely unrepresented in the syllabus. To illustrate, here's what the week on colonialism looks like:
It's not just that particular reading list, though. This exclusion is baked into political science as a discipline, how scholars are trained and how work is rewarded. Those who succeed, who get into top journals and land plush jobs at high ranking universities increasingly tend to adopt a particular theoretical angle (e.g. rational choice institutionalism) and use a particular set of methods (mostly quantitative). These are only taught to the requisite standard at a select set of institutions (mostly American and some, not all, European). Meanwhile, comparative historical and political economy analysis is underrepresented. This imbalance (in my view) impoverishes the discipline in general, but certainly is one way to keep it very Euro-America focused. 

So, in sum, the "study of Africa" (and the study of politics/social sciences perhaps most especially) definitely calls on us to "open the disciplines", to Africanise them, pluralise them, whatever you want to call it. My own background in African Studies, admittedly taught in the UK and with some clear limitations, has nevertheless probably helped make this more obvious than it might otherwise have been, so perhaps African Studies can serve as an incubator, a launch pad from which we can take on the disciplines themselves.


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