Oral History in African Working Group
This working group will conduct interviews with artists from South Africa and Zimbabwe whose work deals with both countries' shifts to independence and the developments in their relationship throughout and after that process. We hope to contribute to the many conversations happening about the role of art in resisting colonialism in this region and the less examined role of art in mediating the complex relationship between Zimbabwe and South Africa. We will return to Northwestern to stage a week long installation compiled of the interviews and selections/recreations of each artist's work, expanding the Oral History and Performance as Social Action archive at the Program of African Studies.
For more information, please contact Andrew Brown, Department of Performance Studies.
States, Societies, and Development in Africa Working Group
This working group will engage with the developmental endeavours of African countries and the successes and failures that have attended these endeavours. We will be considering classic and recent literature on issues of development that have been produced by anthropologists, historians, political scientists, sociologists and development experts working from interdisciplinary perspectives.
For more information, please contact Kofi Asante, Department of Sociology.
Studying Meaning in African Worlds Without Literacy Reading Group
This is a seminar on how scholars figure out what things, people, places and actions meant in past worlds that lie beyond, next to or before literacy. There is an impressive body of work that invokes meaning to generate narratives or draw comparative cases through themes such as goods, ethnicity, migration, land, gender, health and healing, political formations, exchange relations, and so forth. As such there are two intellectual projects with a common epistemological problem. For archaeologists and historians, these themes act as bridges between a vast array of sources and particular narratives or general statements we try to make. They lie at the foundation of writing Africa's history wherever and whenever a documentary archive contemporary with the time period in question does not exist. We will focus our deliberations on the themes of ethnicity and migration, each of which carries great weight in African and African Diaspora studies.
What habits of methodological approach should be cultivated when deriving or attributing meaning to past, non-literate societies in Africa in order to lend them credibility? In what ways does literate meaning and meaning in worlds without literacy mutually constitute one another in both specific historical intersections and in the shifting zone between the production of scholarly and of popular knowledge? In what manner does the epistemic substance of source materials and the requirements they place on analysis impose particular limits on the narratives they can support? If the epistemological limits pertaining to the nature of the available evidence forestall appealing answers to these questions, what concepts other than 'meaning' might we develop? Drawing together students and faculty in the departments of history and anthropology this Working Group will marshal the different epistemic strengths of each discipline in writing about the past meanings of migration and ethnicity. In the course of academic year of 2012/13 we will generate a conversation about these encompassing questions by reading a common list of titles and sharing our work-in-progress. A workshop built on pre-circulated papers and the visits of two historically inclined archaeologists working in different parts of Africa. The first meeting in September will comprise an organizational meeting and the following two meetings will interrogate the themes of ethnicity and migration. We will ask two questions of each theme. What habits allow us to identify when such themes are relevant in past societies? What habits allow us to draw meaning from past practice that evokes those themes? In the winter quarter we will have a workshop in which two invited scholars will reflect on their work and act as moderators for two student led panels. Chicago land scholars concerned with issues of meaning will act as discussants and facilitators. We imagine such a conversation will facilitate new questions that will be addressed in the spring quarter. Understanding the limits the available sources impose on representing past meanings for migration and ethnicity will help us conceptualize new source materials and new ways of using existing sources, as well as critiquing the status of these categories in scholarship.
For more information, please contact David Schoenbrun, Department of History.
Previously Funded Working Groups
Oral History and Performance as Social Action Institute for Africana Studes (OPASA)
The purpose of OPASA is to serve researches that employ oral history as a central methodology in examining the performatives of public dissent, social movements, and human rights activism in Africa and the black Diaspora. OPASA will serve as a scholarly, artistic, and pedagogical resource for researchers seeking a greater understanding of (1) the methodological techniques as well as the philosophical underpinnings that encompass the complex dynamics of oral history research and (2) how adapting a performance analytic can extend and deepen the social, historical, and political domains of both collective action and individual struggles for justice and democracy on the continent and throughout the Diaspora. OPASA will be a site providing opportunities where the social-political processes that adhere in theories of performance and performativity can be discussed and debated; where the critical pedagogy of oral history methodologies can be demonstrated and practiced; and, where staged performances of oral history research can be witnessed and enacted.
For more information please contact Kate Dargis, Program of African Studies.
Midwest Group in African Political Economy (MGAPE)
Founded in 2011, the Midwest Group in African Political Economy (MGAPE) brings together junior faculty and advanced graduate students in Political Science, Economics, and Public Policy who combine rich research experience in Africa with training in political economy methods. MGAPE is a sister group to WGAPE on the West Coast. The group meets to discuss works-in-progress of its regular members and invited guests.
MGAPE meetings begin with a dinner on Friday and end after a full day of discussion on Saturday. Meetings are built around in-depth discussions of six to eight papers (see archive of past MGAPE papers). The emphasis is on discussion rather than presentation, and members are encouraged to present work on which they would like feedback from the group.
For more information please contact Rachel Riedl, Department of Political Science.
African Hip Hop Working Group
The African Hip Hop Working Group is entering its 2nd year as a funded entity under the Program of African Studies. Last year, the Working Group sponsored several talks from scholars doing fieldwork on hip hop in Africa, culminating in a Hip-Hop "Teach-In" May 7-10, 2011 called "Remixing the Art of Social Change." The teach-in featured workshops, performances, and panel discussions on hip-hop's connections to Africa and the diaspora. In 2011-2012, the Working Group will continue the work of exploring the theory and practice of hip-hop in African cultural contexts, including the role of hip-hop cultural workers in African civil society, the effects of structural adjustments programs in Africa through hip-hop lyrics, and the potential for social activism and cultural bridge building through the diverse elements of hip-hop culture. The Working Group welcomes participants interested in hip-hop, performance studies, politics, literature, African Studies and art history, including those scholars and students working on connections between Africa and the global African diaspora.
For more information please contact Nate Matthews, Department of History.
States, Societies and Development in Africa
This working group will engage with research and scholarship situated at the intersection between states and societies in the African context. The twentieth century witnessed excited optimism about the development potential of countries in Africa and the developing world at large; and this enthusiasm heightened with the rise of visionary and charismatic leaders in these countries and the consequent attainment of independence. By the late 1970s, however, most of these states were foundering, leading to widespread pessimism at home and in the international development community. A decade later, almost all these states had reversed their socialist rhetoric, had turned West and adopted structural adjustment programmes. This was soon followed by a wave of democratisation in the 1990s and a fresh burst of optimism at the turn of the century.
A proper appreciation of these processes requires a broad understanding of economic policy, political institutions, cultural formations, and an understanding of the on-going relevance of history. This working group aims to engage with these questions. We will be considering works at the forefront of scholarship that grapples with issues of state-society interaction produced by anthropologists, historians, political scientists, sociologists and development experts working from interdisciplinary perspectives. But more important, there will be meetings to present and discuss works in progress and to get feedback from a friendly audience.