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Africa-centred Knowledges

Africa-centred Knowledges: Crossing Fields and Worlds

Brenda Cooper
Robert Morrell
Foreword by Crain Soudien
Copyright Date: 2014
Edition: NED - New edition
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 232
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  • Book Info
    Africa-centred Knowledges
    Book Description:

    Knowledge production is a highly political and politicized practice. This book questions the way in which knowledge of and about Africa is produced and how this influences development policy and practice. Rebutting both Euro- and Afrocentric production of knowledge, this collection proposes a multiple, global and dynamic Africa-centredness in which scholars use whatever concepts and research tools are most appropriate to the different African contexts in which they work. In the first part of the book key conceptual themes are raised and the epistemological foundations are laid through questions of gender, literature and popular music. Contributors in the second part apply and test these tools and concepts, examining the pressures on doctoral students in a South African university, the crisis in knowledge about declining marine fish populations, perplexities around why certain ICT provisions fail, or how some Zimbabwean students, despite being beset by poverty, succeed. The light thrown on the mechanics of how knowledge comes into being, and in whose interests, illuminates one of the key issues in African Studies. Brenda Cooper is an Honorary Research Associate at the University of Manchester. She was for many years the Director of the Centre for African Studies and a Professor in the English department at the University of Cape Town, where she is now Emeritus Professor. Robert Morrell is Coordinator of the Programme for the Enhancement of Research Capacity at the University of Cape Town.

    eISBN: 978-1-78204-365-2
    Subjects: History, Political Science, Philosophy

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Figures
    (pp. vii-vii)
  4. Notes on Contributors
    (pp. viii-xiv)
  5. Foreword The Power of Knowing
    (pp. xv-xvi)
    Crain Soudien

    There are many deeply evocative contributions in this collection of readings brought together by my colleagues Robert Morrell and Brenda Cooper. One that struck me intensely was Cooper’s reference to Haraway’s injunction that we have ‘to design classification systems that do not foreclose on rearrangements suggested by new forms of social and natural knowledge’ (quoted in Chapter 5, this volume). How we do this, given the grip that our epistemic orders have on our political, social and cultural imaginations, is a fundamentally ethical question. It is so for those of us who presume to have achieved, through our epistemes, the...

  6. Acknowledgements
    (pp. xvii-xviii)
  7. List of Frequently used Acronyms
    (pp. xix-xx)
  8. Introduction The Possibility of Africa-centred Knowledges
    (pp. 1-20)
    Brenda Cooper and Robert Morrell

    In this book we question how knowledge is made in African contexts, as a way of exploring the nature of what we term Africa-centred knowledges. Africa-centred knowledges are predicated on the recognition that Africa is highly diverse but, at the same time, there is a geopolitical and historical unity that continues to underpin it. This requires that we acknowledge the multiplicity of understandings on the continent, which come forward as forms of knowledge, needs and questions. Moving away then from the idea of universal truths and realities, we focus instead on the process by which knowledge is made. In so...


    • 1 Validated Knowledge Confronting Myths about Africa
      (pp. 23-35)
      Lansana Keita

      Knowledge about Africa is still constructed under the cloud of colonialism. European colonizers denied the existence of African civilization, history and culture while simultaneously casting the continent and its people as noble and awe-inspiring. Knowledge production about, and in, Africa still is afflicted by confusions over race and geography – the effects of Eurocentric schemas that rest on hierarchical understandings of humanity. While there is a postmodern dispute about what can be known, this chapter makes the case for the possibility of a validated knowledge that will help to dispel the many myths that surround the continent.

      From archaeological times...

    • 2 Re-theorizing the Indigenous Knowledge Debate
      (pp. 36-50)
      Lesley Green

      One of Aesop’s fables tells the story of Herakles whose journey took him over a distant mountain pass. At the point where the road narrowed between two great walls of rock, he came across an object in his path that looked like an apple. Why Herakles thought the object was an apple, or why an apple should have been quite so offensive to him, Aesop does not say. Perhaps, as the son of Zeus and the champion of the Olympian order over underworld monsters, he thought that it was the apple from Hades, who had given Persephone a fruit to...

    • 3 Battlefields of Knowledge Conceptions of Gender in Development Discourse
      (pp. 51-63)
      Signe Arnfred

      Concepts are not innocent. On the contrary: concepts and categories are hugely important in determining what is seen and understood, as well as what is marginalized and/or made invisible. This is true in any field of knowledge, and very much so in development studies and development discourse – fields in which African cases figure prominently. In this chapter, I look critically at conceptions of gender as produced in and by the development establishment, with a particular focus on the World Bank, which ranks highly on a global level in terms of both the production and dissemination of knowledge.

      My intention...

    • 4 Knowing Time Temporal Epistemology & the African Novel
      (pp. 64-77)
      Bill Ashcroft

      We cannot approach the question of an Africa-centred epistemology without addressing the trauma of colonialism. Whether this period caused irreparable damage to African societies, or whether African subjects successfully appropriated and transformed the technologies and discourses of imperial powers (including the colonizing language), or both, frames a continuing argument in postcolonial studies. The example of literature is instructive, because the adaptation of a global language allowed writers to represent their own reality to a world audience. In turn, literary appropriations are a model for the transformed and transformative modernity created by Africans. Afromodernity is one model in which the past...

    • 5 Black Boxes & Glass Jars Classification in the Hunt for Africa-centred Knowledge
      (pp. 78-92)
      Brenda Cooper

      In this chapter, I explore the ways in which systems of classification contribute to producing the knowledges that they are supposedly designed simply to store. I ask how classification contributes to producing Africa-centred knowledge or to inhibiting its production. Specifically, I explore some of the consequences of placingAfrica(as traditional and archaic) in one pigeonhole andmodernity(meaning Europe) in another, which presents the challenge of how to confront and dismantle this binary in the service of creating Africa-centred knowledges. There are many different ways of rising to this challenge. As we shall see, some projects retain the binary...

    • 6 ‘This is a Robbers’ System’ Popular Musicians’ Readings of the Kenyan State
      (pp. 93-108)
      Mbugua wa Mungai

      Globalization has tended to give force to particular knowledges, privileging them while at the same time marginalizing and subverting other, often local, knowledges. An entirely understandable response from below has been to assert the primacy of local knowledge. It is often asserted that local knowledge has greater explanatory power, is more sensitive to context, and has local resonance. Following from this, it can be argued that local knowledge can constitute a form of resistance and empowerment. Within nation states there is a contestation over knowledge that pits states against citizens. States are themselves invested in creating knowledge as a way...


    • 7 Science, Fishers’ Knowledge & Namibia’s Fishing Industry
      (pp. 111-125)
      Barbara Paterson, Marieke Norton, Astrid Jarre and Lesley Green

      The world’s oceans are overfished (Pauly et al. 2007). One of the responses to this from the fishing industry has been to try to fish more ‘scientifically’. However, as indicated in the first of the above quotes, the science of fisheries management is not without uncertainties, conflicts and contestations. The failure of conventional science to provide the basis for managing the world’s fisheries in a sustainable manner has sparked a countermovement towards an ecosystem approach to fisheries management (FAO). This approach aims at holistic management; it considers fisheries as components of complex social and ecological systems requiring a balancing of...

    • 8 ICT for Development Extending Computing Design Concepts
      (pp. 126-141)
      Ulrike Rivett, Gary Marsden and Edwin Blake

      Information Communication Technologies (ICTs) such as cellphones have become a part of our daily lives. The technology has rapidly been adopted throughout the world, and this is particularly true in Africa. ICTs provide opportunities for development but the expectations they tend to raise, of improved services and a general modernization, are often not realized.

      The failure rate of ICT systems in the developing world is astonishingly high (Heeks 2002). Initiatives such as telecentres (centres in rural villages with computers and internet access) have been shown to fail both in the software engineering sense (they are unsustainable and need repair), and...

    • 9 ‘Good Houses Make Good People’ Making Knowledge about Health & Environment in Cape Town
      (pp. 142-162)
      Warren Smit, Ariane de Lannoy, Robert VH Dover, Estelle V Lambert, Naomi Levitt and Vanessa Watson

      There is increasing recognition of the importance of the physical environment of cities for the health and wellbeing of residents. Along with the social and institutional aspects of cities, the physical urban environment can play a significant role in influencing health-related behaviours and outcomes. In some ways, it may seem easier to address the physical urban environment than the social one, but without any associated upstream or downstream support or engagement, such changes do not always have the expected outcomes.

      The most commonly used concepts and tools for understanding the relationships between physical urban environments and health and wellbeing are...

    • 10 Men of God & Gendered Knowledge
      (pp. 163-177)
      Akosua Adomako Ampofo and Michael PK Okyerefo

      Despite important strides brought about by legislation and civil-society advocacy, contemporary Ghanaian society remains unequal, and women continue to be largely confined to subordinate roles. In this chapter,¹ we examine the ways in which some of the key leaders within Ghana’s Pentecostal and charismatic churches speak to this gendered context, and aim to assess whether they contribute to gender equality or inequality. We also consider whether their writings reveal evidence of a new and emerging African knowledge. We focus on Christian churches because, according to Ghana’s 2010 population census, 71.2 per cent of the country’s population profess their belief in...

    • 11 Retrieving the Traces of Knowledge-making while Editing a Book on Postgraduate Writing
      (pp. 178-190)
      Linda Cooper and Lucia Thesen

      Writing is essential to the making of new knowledge as it enables the communication of research across configurations of time and space. However, writing may also close down possibilities of making new knowledge. In this chapter, we reflect on the production of a book on postgraduate writing that we co-edited (see Thesen and Cooper 2013). The book originated within a collaborative research project established at the University of Cape Town’s Centre for Higher Education Development. The Centre’s role is to enhance the quality of teaching and learning in the university, and to advance the theoretical and practical understanding of these...

    • 12 Hunhuism (Personhood) & Academic Success in a Zimbabwean Secondary School
      (pp. 191-205)
      Leadus Madzima

      Explanations of ‘success’ or ‘failure’ in education are often limited by the choice of indicator and by the frame of explanation. In this chapter, I broaden the explanation of academic success to include the Shona conception ofhunhuism(personhood). Analysing the performance of Zimbabwean learners from this perspective shows how learners understand themselves and energize their academic performance, while at the same time suggesting new theoretical approaches to questions of academic identity.

      Weak academic performance among black African learners from low socio-economic backgrounds is generally put down to poverty. These learners’ parents lack appropriate cultural resources. They live within economically...

  11. Index
    (pp. 206-212)
  12. Back Matter
    (pp. 213-213)