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With Friends Like These … A Critique of Pervasive Anti-Africanisms in Current African Studies Epistemology and Methodology*

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  23 May 2014


Unlike certain area studies disciplines (Russian Studies and Oriental Studies, for example), African Studies has largely attracted scholars whose commitment to their subject transcends mere professionalism. The sensible assumption with regard to African Africanists is, of course, that their orientation would be decidedly pro-African, but within the discipline, the notion is widespread that at least for the most part, even non-African Africanists hold a patronal attitude towards the continent, its peoples and cultures and their future, routinely combining the role of champions with that of students. This paper will argue that very often, Africanist practice, while purporting to be responsive to the best interests of Africa and Africans, in fact has the effect of perpetuating notions of an Africa that never was. It will also call attention to some significant incongruities between the methodology of African Studies and the well known relational principles that inform inter-personal commerce in African cultures. Beyond exposing these discrepancies between the expected and the actual, and the incongruities between methodology and spirit, the discussion will argue for an infusion of the practice of the discipline with the attitudes that characterize African familial discourses.

I will warn at the outset that the ensuing argument adopts the position that one can make valid general statements about Africa, Africans, African cultures, African relational habits and the like, without necessarily suggesting a monolithic uniformity over the entire continent in any of the particulars. Furthermore, descriptions of, and assertions about, aspects of African life in the following pages cannot be construed as implying their eternal fixity and immutability through history.

Copyright © African Studies Association 1994

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This essay was originally presented at the 1992 annual meeting of the African Studies Association in Seattle, Washington with the title, “Exploring the ‘Africa’ in African Studies.”


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