Imagining Africa: Concept and Reality
What does it mean to “do African Studies”? As a rubric, the phrase is broad and imprecise, and the body of scholarship collected under it likewise ample and disparate. If anything, what unites the field is the continent itself, the persons and things that inhabit it, and the phenomena that take place there. But even the scholarship written in Africa, about Africa, rarely refers to itself as “Africanist.” How, then, did the idea of “Africa” come to be consolidated into an intellectual object—and for whom? What entangled histories and geographies have coalesced into what is now deemed, more or less self-evidently, “African Studies”? What geopolitical concerns and ambitions have shaped, and reshaped, the idea of Africa—under colonialism, during the Cold War, and in the 21st century? How have these various concerns and ambitions produced different trajectories for the field of African Studies? And how has professionalization of the discipline itself reshaped and reoriented its work and its commitments?
In this course, we will take a survey of the problems that have structured the field of African Studies since its inception, with a focus on three key terrains of origin and contestation. We will begin by examining colonial anthropological scholarship on the “Native Problem,” as exemplified in the South African journal Bantu Studies (later rebranded African Studies), and its complex relationship with contemporary critical philosophical work. We will then explore how Cold War-era motivations brought Africa into view under the auspices of “Area Studies,” and the pushback this met from critical Marxist thought. We will close by tracing a post-Négritude lineage of interest in Africa that will bring us up to the present, asking: what possibilities and questions emerge when Africa becomes a context for thinking Black history and Black experience globally? Readings will draw from the works of contemporary African writers, critics, historians, and scholars, including, among others, Bibi Bakare-Yusuf, Keguro Macharia, Amina Mama, V.Y. Mudimbe, and Paul Zeleza.
Course ScheduleSunday, 2:00-5:00pm ET
November 20 — December 18, 2022
4 sessions over 5 weeks
Class will not meet Sunday, November 27th.