Knowledge and Science in Africa
Conference of the “African Studies Association in Germany (VAD)”
Frankfurt am Main, July 13-16, 2006
Under the auspices of Federal President Prof. Dr. Horst Köhler
About the VAD: The African Studies Association in Germany (VAD), founded in 1969, is a scholarly association dedicated to current African problems and their historical conditions. The association supports Africa-related educational and public relations programs in Germany. The VAD is interdisciplinary and cooperative, which means the attempt is made to cross university-disciplinary boundaries by way of non-prejudicial international scholarly cooperation.
Conference Announcement/Call for Panels
The “African Studies Association in Germany” meets every two years to discuss current developments and the status of research in Africa within the framework of an international conference. At the conference planned for 2006, various conceptions of “knowledge” in the broadest sense are to be dealt with, whereby local concepts of knowledge are to play just as much a role as the knowledge accumulated and institutionalized by academics. Central topics are the production, dissemination, and preservation of knowledge. But also questions concerning the power to define what “knowledge” is and how this knowledge has changed in the history of African studies are to take center stage at the conference: Which questions are posed by African and nonAfrican scholars/scientists, and which thematic priorities condition their research? Under what political and economic conditions is scholarship conducted in Africa, and what attempts have been made to achieve forms of cooperation in terms of equal partnership? Does Africa need more scholarship/science to solve its problems – and what role can be played by the research on Africa pursued at universities? In addition to the thematic focus on the networking of local and academic conceptions of knowledge, interdisciplinary panels are to receive special attention in Frankfurt.
The “Centre for Interdisciplinary Research on Africa (CIRA)” will host the conference (www.ziaf.de ).
The conference will be divided into panels with a relatively variable scope. In contrast to the last VAD conference in Hannover (June 2004), an organizational uniformity among the sessions will be foregone. Panel coordinators are more or less free to organize their panels as they see fit (presentations, podium discussions, film, performance, etc.). A small panel covers a maximum of two hours (including a break), which corresponds to approximately three presenters plus discussion. A standard size panel consists of a half-day event with a double program. Larger panels are to a great extent dependent on room capacities and the demand expressed for them. Decisions concerning the acceptance of panels will be made at a meeting of the executive committee and board of the VAD on April 4, 2005.
German, English, and French are allowed as conference languages. Out of consideration for foreign guests, all presenters will be required to submit an English abstract, which is to be no longer than one page. For presentations in French, a more detailed English abstract modeled on the outline of the presentation will be required.
Please submit your proposals for panels no later than March 20, 2005 to Dr. Stefan Schmid (e-mail address given below) with the following information:
Classification under a topic heading
Estimated duration (2/4/6/8 hours) and estimated number of presenters
Short description (half a page)
PLease note that panels can only be proposed in cooperation with a german partner.
Once a panel is accepted, each panel coordinator will have the opportunity to post a call for papers on the VAD homepage (web address shown below). The panel coordinators are urged to give special consideration to young scholars when organizing their panels. They are emphatically encouraged to invite African presenters, in which case early correspondence with the conference coordinator is necessary. In order to complete the DFG application to finance the costs for foreign guests, all relevant information must be submitted to the conference organizer no later than May 15, 2005, even if such information has only a provisional character.
Theme 1: Production, communication and adaptation of knowledge
Views on 'knowledge' and what is worth knowing vary not only within African and European academic traditions but also in different social and cultural milieus. Questions relating to concepts of knowledge and world views are of importance here, as are those relating to what is 'specific' about an African science and how it can be represented. The panels will discuss the dynamics of African knowledge and of African studies from a broad and interdisciplinary perspective.
Keywords: Collection, communication, translation and adaptation of knowledge, colonisation and decolonisation of knowledge, diverging fields of knowledge, processes of the production, communication and alteration of knowledge, methods in African studies
Theme 2: Changing 'sites' of knowledge
As everywhere else, in Africa is institutionalised in many different forms, on a local, state and supra-regional level. The panels will be devoted to different forms of knowledge, their interrelationships and the influences to which they are subject. This raises questions relating to the localisation of knowledge and to political influences upon education and science in Africa, as well as to why certain academic topics attract most attention and for what reason. What role do institutions of knowledge (universities, local historians, secret societies, archives, museums etc.) play in preserving knowledge and as centres of innovation? What is the importance of the languages in which knowledge is transmitted? What influence has mission had upon the development of fields of knowledge? What significance do artistic and performative knowledge have for institutions of education and for the public? What role do films and the cinema play in preserving and transmitting knowledge? What is the relationship between cultural decrees issued 'from above' and cultural praxis 'below'?
Keywords: Localisation and institutionalisation of knowledge, inclusion and exclusion from academic context(s), lay knowledge, everyday knowledge, expert knowledge, science and educational policy in Africa, science and political counselling, decentralisation and the transfer of knowledge, legal pluralism and the transfer of knowledge, transfer of knowledge via the state and development organisations, historians of local centres of power, instrumentalisation of knowledge by local or state actors, colonial knowledge, the knowledge of power, secret knowledge, artistic, performative, gender-specific and socially differentiated knowledge, museums, education, mission, film, cinema, popular / elite notions of culture, languages
Theme 3: Knowledge, development and shaping the future
The consolidation of the tertiary education sector in Africa and of the academic exchange is often mentioned as one of the essential prerequisites for achieving the Millennium Development Goals. The enormous educational strides made by countries such as South Korea, China or Chile are used as examples. Yet can these strategies really be applied in Africa? What role do knowledge and education really play in the African economic context? Must the knowledge basis of African societies be raised, in order that new technologies may be introduced in a productive manner? A key role in this is played by the African universities and other forms of tertiary education – but do these consider it their duty to work towards solving the development problems of their countries? Should research in Least Developed Countries (LDC) generally have an applied aspect? Or, to put it provocatively: Is it (still) legitimate to conduct ethnological, archaeological or botanical basic research in countries like the Sudan, which are heavily hit by civil war, hunger and AIDS? How can local knowledge be used in the framework of development cooperation, and who uses local knowledge for economic and political purposes?
Keywords: Research on Africa and development cooperation, knowledge and educational policy in Africa, science and political consulting, applied research / basic research in LDCs / crisis areas, how African educational institutions see themselves, higher education and development, applicability of Asian / Latin American strategies of knowledge, universities and technological change, local knowledge and development
Theme 4: Transmission of knowledge
The transmission of knowledge and social concepts is currently being transformed by the media. Modern mass media, however, not only offer swifter access to 'global knowledge' (via the Internet, online journalism, museum exhibitions, libraries, cinemas etc.): they also create space for the expression of an individual – new – modernity (videos, market literature etc.). This reveals the potential of knowledge to shape identities, combining with local forms of knowledge-culture (expressed in art, music, theatre, performance, objects of memory, sacred groves etc.). In this linking of 'old' and 'new' media and of the exponents of both the development of local museums, cultural associations etc. is particularly important. The panels will deal with institutional instances of transmission, the role of elites and gender-specific approaches to the transmission of knowledge. They will also examine what transformations knowledge itself experiences, depending upon how it is medially transmitted (narrated, written, pictured or filmed) and to what extent the person (narrator, writer, intellectual, scholar, filmmaker) and the public preserve or transform tradition.
Keywords: modern media, channels of the production and transmission of knowledge, the public, forums of knowledge (academic community, consulting community, NGO community as bearers of knowledge), landscapes and concepts of art, music and the museum, objects of memory, art and literature as means of preserving and transferring knowledge, journalism relating to Africa, theatre, modern tradition, conservative modernity, film as a modern continuation of oral culture, gender
Topic 5: Environmental Changes and Environmental Knowledge
Environmental changes are likely one of the basic factors in the history of settlement and culture in the various regions of Africa (e.g. the drying up of the Sahara, the decline of the rain forests and of Lake Chad). But what do we really know about the influence of climatic and landscape changes, and what can interdisciplinary research in the humanities and natural sciences contribute to our understanding of the constellation of factors? How has agriculture been transformed in the wake of socioeconomic change? What does “man-made desert” mean today?
Local knowledge of the environment has been one of the central topics of interdisciplinary research in Africa for decades. Research is directed especially at the documentation of traditional knowledge, by way of linguistic research, for example, or at the local dealings with plants. What do people know about environmental changes, and how do they themselves judge the environmental changes of the past decades? What can this knowledge contribute to sustainable development? How is local agriknowledge globalized, or how are new, integrated forms of conservation and resource cultivation localized? What does the protection of biodiversity mean to the knowledge bearers in Africa?
Keywords: Ecosystem and cultural change, agriknowledge, climate and history, environment and social change, landscape use and landscape concepts, social concepts and institutional regulations of resource conservation, biodiversity and ethnomedicine, environmental perception and language
Topic 6: Generation and Transfer of Religion-Knowledge
The connection between knowledge and religion has two dimensions:
generation and transfer of “religious” knowledge, and (2) generation and transfer of knowledge about religion.
In addition, the question of African religion-knowledge must be differentiated once again in accordance with the diverse, if not always clearly distinguishable, religious knowledge-cultures (African traditional religions, Christianity, Islam, African Diaspora), modes of transfer (tradition, import, export) and their specific agents (ritualistic experts, griots, evangelists, Sufis, legal scholars), as well as institutions (courts, missionary schools, madrasas/darasas...).
The question of the generation and transfer of knowledge about religion applies on the one hand to representations of African religions within the academic discourses of Europe and North America, and on the other hand to representations in an African context. Here the transformative character of this knowledge must be scrutinized in both dimensions (“transculturation,” “translation”). Moreover, the discursive and constructive character of academic speech concerning “religion(s)” must be taken into account – intellectuals and scholars are also a part of the processes they study.
Keywords: Processes, agents and agencies of the “Islamizing/Christianizing” versus “Africanizing” of (religion) knowledge; “great” (Ile-Ife, Fourah Bay, Timbuktu) and “small” (initiations, teachers’ colleges, Koran schools, Diaspora church communities) institutions of the generation and transfer of (religion)knowledge; religious communities (fellowships, prayer bands, Diaspora communities) as producers/disseminators of religious knowledge; the reconfiguration of religion-knowledge (religious definitions, redefinitions, or new definitions of self and other; religious education, theological and religious studies research) in an interreligious context; the “invention” of African religion(s) in academic discourses.
Topic 7: Knowledge and Action in the Context of Disease and Poverty
Under this heading, the relations, transformations, and interactions between knowledge and action in the context of structural poverty and diseases such as malaria and AIDS are to be investigated. The extent to which access to knowledge is prevented or impeded by disease and poverty is to be examined, and conversely whether and to what extent acquired or available knowledge is made use of in the fight against poverty and disease. Special emphasis is placed here on the effects of AIDS. The AIDS epidemic – which has its worldwide epicenter in the countries of sub-Saharan Africa – puts into motion far-reaching social dynamics and transformation processes in many African societies. Here, on the one hand, various modes of interpretation (for example with regard to the interpretation of an HIV infection) overlap, and different concepts of body and healing confront one another. Agents’ possibilities for action are also often dramatically transformed (with regard, for example, to social structures and systems to insure against loss of livelihood). Further, the question should be posed of which factors hinder or support the transfer of knowledge into action in the everyday activity of agents (for example with regard to prevention and anti-poverty programs), and how global concepts introduced through the programs of NGOs and by states are adopted and adapted by local agents and linked to local stocks of knowledge to complement, modify, or replace them.
Keywords: Disease and poverty, HIV/AIDS; patterns of interpretation (notions of fate, fortune/misfortune); biomedicine and traditional healing; body concepts; healing concepts; coping strategies; activity patterns; systems to insure against loss of livelihood; social change; prevention; the family in the crossfire of disease and poverty; institutional reactions
Topic 8: International Science/Scholarship Cooperation and International Knowledge Exchange
As is everywhere the case, science and scholarship in Africa are dependent on international cooperation; however, an extreme dependency on international funding is a special characteristic of scientific practice in Africa. Scientific/scholarly exchange takes place on a number of levels: joint research projects, personal and virtual networks among researchers, further education and exchange programs. Historically, most centrally significant have been, and still are, cooperations between African researchers and the countries of the North, especially with the former colonial powers England and France, but also with the USA, and, resulting therefrom, the pronounced postcolonial differentiation of African scientific/scholarly practice into epistemic-linguistic scientific communities oriented variously towards different knowledge centers of the North.
Empirical analyses of international cooperations with African countries, scientific/scholarly institutions and researchers, their history, thematic trends, and material foundations are to be presented and discussed. Of particular interest here are contributions in which the various research orientations, practices of project allocation, and material contexts of the northern countries are investigated in their effects on the substantial and methodological orientations of African scientific institutions and African scientists/scholars. Also welcome are contributions which thematize the increasing significance of international development cooperation for the thematic and methodological orientation of African scientific practice. Finally, contributions that take up the significance of exchange between countries of the South itself would be of interest, whether exclusively between African countries or among those of Africa, Latin America, and Asia.
In addition, concrete approaches to cooperative projects of all sorts are to be the focus of this panel – not only the presentation of cooperative infrastructural and educational programs in the university sector, but also local and regional initiatives for the exchange of knowledge that have been established without external financial support.
In the framework of this topic, a podium discussion on “The Future of African Studies in Germany and their Role in the Dialogue with Africa” is also planned.
Keywords: Research support and project acquisition, the history of knowledge transfer: from Africa to Europe and from Europe to Africa (history of science, science and empire, archaeology of development aid), international cooperations and networks, university cooperation as a part of global development cooperation, science and political advising, global and horizontal networking (North-South dialogue; South-South), role of Diaspora and its networking, field research methods, student education and exchange, Africa in the global knowledge community: integration or isolation through IT ?
Theme 9: African studies in Europe: A by-product of the (post) colonial experience?
Although the conference will be primarily concerned with knowledge in Africa itself, it seems appropriate to take a complementary look at the historical development of professional knowledge about Africa in Europe.
The relationship between these two spheres has always been a complex one. For some of the disciplines now taught at European universities – e.g. agricultural science or African history - the knowledge of Africans has been an indispensable precondition; others – e.g. social anthropology – likewise make use of African knowledge, yet have seldom succeeded in fully establishing themselves at African universities, with the exception of southern Africa. Generalised references to 'colonial' or 'colonised' knowledge tell us little about the concrete ways in which commerce, exploration, colonial rule or the postcolonial situation affected European knowledge and discourse about Africa. Within almost every discipline it is possible to discern several contemporaneous approaches – for instance, the "localizing strategies" of ethnographic writing in West, South-Central and Eastern Africa (Fardon 1990).
We are looking for panels devoted to the historical parameters and conjunctures that have shaped Europe's understanding of human societies in Africa: individual academic careers, academic networks, institutional forms (university departments, conferences, museums), media (books and periodicals, photography, radio), financial constraints and incentives. The panels may cover any period in the past two centuries and any branch of the humanities, social sciences or natural sciences. They may also deal – from a historical perspective – with how knowledge was popularised and how it was transferred between Africa and Europe.
Keywords: history of science, taxonomies, paradigms, mission, museums, race, transfer of knowledge
Round Table on developmental politics with representatives of BMZ/AA, political foundations, implementation organizations, and media
Dr. Stefan Schmid
Leiter der Geschäftsstelle/Koordinator
Zentrum für interdisziplinäre Afrikaforschung (ZIAF)
Johann Wolfgang Goethe-Universität
60323 Frankfurt am Main
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