Thinking the human through Africa: Epistemological debates

Which ideas and/or concepts are vital for thinking the human through Africa? If modern histories of colonialism exposed the contradictions at the core of Enlightenment affirmations of a shared human nature, late (post)modernity have also blighted efforts to establish peaceful, dignified and mutually respectful modes of living. What does it mean to be human in Africa and/or African in the world? What alternatives remain to imagine the human from Africa, and how can African epistemologies contribute to thinking the human globally?

This HUMA-ASAA series of debates leading up to the ASAA 2022 Biennial Conference aims to provoke pertinent questions and stir ideological debates about the ethics of being human in Africa and being African in the world today. The discussions are organised around key pillars that allow us to move from everyday ideas to analytical concepts.

Format: The seminars are being held once a month, convening two scholars in conversation around an epistemological question, followed by a Q&A session.

Past sessions

Tue, 23 Nov 2021

19:00 – 20:30 SAST (GMT + 2:00)
Zoom Webinar

Race and gender struggles in Africa and the diaspora

Speakers: Keisha-Khan Perry and Awino Okech

Keisha-Khan Perr

Keisha-Khan Perry is a feminist anthropologist, political activist, and professor of Africana Studies at the University of Pennsylvania, US. She writes on urban social movements fighting against the violence of forced displacement. Keisha-Khan is the author of the prize-winning book: Black Women against the Land Grab: The Fight for Racial Justice in Brazil (University of Minnesota Press, 2013), an ethnographic study of black women’s activism for housing and land rights in the northeastern Brazilian city of Salvador. With an emphasis on the United States, Jamaica, and Brazil, Keisha-Khan continues to write on issues of black land ownership and loss and the related gendered racial logics of black dispossession in the African diaspora. Keisha-Khan recently served on the Latin American Studies Association (LASA) delegation to investigate the impeachment of Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff.

Awino Okec

Awino Okech’s research interests lie in the nexus between gender, sexuality, security, and nation/state-making projects as they occur in conflict and post-conflict societies. Awino is attentive to power in knowledge production and transfer processes and explores these dynamics through the methodological and pedagogical choices in her research and in the classroom. Before joining SOAS University of London, UK, Awino worked for over a decade in the development sector across various sub-regions in Africa, supporting women rights organisations and local movements working at the intersection of gender and conflict. This work remains central to her scholarship and teaching and is illustrated in ongoing support to feminist social justice movements in Africa and feminist movement building organisations globally. At SOAS, Awino’s work is split between teaching in the Department of Politics and International Studies and supporting the delivery of SOAS’s racial justice commitments as Associate Director for Equity and Accountability.

Tue, 26 Oct 2021

19:00 – 20:30 SAST (GMT + 2:00)
Zoom Webinar

The land question and being human in Africa and the diaspora

Speakers: Robbie Shilliam and Sabatho Nyamsenda

Robbie Shilliam

Robbie Shilliam researches the political and intellectual complicities of colonialism and race in the global order. He is co-editor of the Rowman & Littlefield book series, Kilombo: International Relations and Colonial Questions. Robbie was a co-founder of the Colonial / Postcolonial / Decolonial Working Group of the British International Studies Association and is a long-standing active member of the Global Development Section of the International Studies Association. Over the past six years, Robbie has co-curated with community intellectuals and elders a series of exhibitions in Ethiopia, Jamaica and the UK, which have brought to light the histories and significance of the Rastafari movement for contemporary politics. Based on original, primary research in British imperial and postcolonial history, this work now enjoys an online presence as a teaching aid on Rastafari in Motion. Robbie is a Professor in the Department of Political Science at John Hopkins University, United States.

Sabatho Nyamsenda

Sabatho Nyamsenda is a Pan-Africanist and socialist activist based in Tanzania. He is an assistant lecturer in the Department of Political Science and Public Administration, University of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania and a research associate at the Society, Work and Politics Institute (SWOP), University of Witwatersrand, South Africa. He is also a member of the Land Rights Research and Resources Institute (HakiArdhi) and the Tanzania Socialist Forum. Sabatho writes for and appears regularly in local and international media. Between 2017 and 2019, he coordinated a newspaper column called “Sauti ya Mshikamano” (Voice of Solidarity), which published articles written or dictated by working-class activists. He later compiled the pieces into an edited book, titled Wavujajasho dhidi ya Soko Huria (The Working People Against the Free Market, 2019). 

Tue, 28 Sep 2021

19:00 – 20:30 SAST (GMT + 2:00)
Zoom Webinar

Postcolonial African feminisms

Speakers: Sylvia Bawa and Yolande Bouka

Sylvia Bawa

Sylvia Bawa is Associate Professor of Sociology at York University, Canada. Her research examines discourses of empowerment, decolonization, human rights, culture and critical development. With a specific focus on women’s rights and empowerment in Africa, her work examines the ways in which historical forces and events shape orthodox conceptions of empowerment, resulting in the production of distorted images and identities of African women in development discourse. Among others, her publications on these topics have been published in journals such as Third World QuarterlyAfrican IdentitiesQualitative Report, Development in PracticeJournal of African LawCanadian Journal of African Studies, chapters in the International Human Rights of Women, and The Palgrave Handbook of African Women’s Studies (Springer Major Reference Works Series).

With a PhD from Queen’s University, Dr Bawa is currently the principal investigator or co-investigator on the following Partnership development projects, funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC)Research/Dissemination Network on Canada’s Human Rights Role in Sub-Saharan Africa (CARRISSA)Confronting Atrocity: Truth Commissions, National Reconciliation and the Politics of Memory; and the GMO 2.0 Partnership

Yolande Bouka

Yolande Bouka is Assistant Professor in the Department of Political Studies at Queen’s University, Canada. She is a scholar-practitioner of peace and conflict whose research and teaching focus on state-society relations, political violence, gender, and field research ethics in sub-Saharan Africa. She holds a PhD in International Relations from American University. Her current research is a multi-sited historical and political analysis of female combatants in Southern Africa; she is also a co-investigator on a project exploring the micro-dynamics of political protests in Africa. Her research has received support from the Fulbright Scholar Program, the American Association of University Women, and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC). She currently serves on the advisory board of the Diaspora Program of the Council for the Development of Social Science Research in Africa (CODESRIA) and the editorial advisory boards of Africa Development and the Canadian Journal of African Studies.

Tue, 29 Jun 2021

19:00 – 20:30 SAST (GMT + 2:00)
Zoom Webinar

Feminism, modernity and being human in contemporary Africa

Speakers: Desiree Lewis and S.N. Nyeck

Desiree Lewis is a professor in the Women’s and Gender Studies Department at the University of the Western Cape, South Africa. She has published numerous articles, essays and book chapters in the fields of African feminist politics and scholarship, South African cultural studies, black women’s writing and, more recently, food as material culture. She has held fellowships and visiting professor positions in Germany, the US and Sweden. Currently the lead PI of an intra-institutional Mellon Programme titled “Critical Food Studies: Transdisciplinary Humanities Approaches to Food”, she is the author of Living on a Horizon: Bessie Head and the Politics of Imagining (Africa World Press, 2007) and, more recently, Surfacing: On Being Black and Feminist in South Africa (Wits University Press, 2021), co-edited with Gabeba Baderoon.

S.N. Nyeck is visiting scholar at the Vulnerability and Human Condition Initiative at Emory University, United States and a Research Associate with the Chair for Critical Studies in Higher Education Transformation (CriSHET) at the Nelson Mandela University, South Africa. Her upcoming book, African(a) Queer Presence: Ethics and Politics of Negotiation (Palgrave, 2021), develops a grounded ethics for negotiating queerness in Africa and Diaspora. Her other books in this line of research are Routledge Handbook of Queer African Studies (Routledge, 2019) and, with Marc Epprecht, Sexual Diversity in Africa: Politics, Theory and Citizenship (McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2013).