2020 African Studies Association Annual Meeting (Washington, D.C.)

Program Chairs: Carina Ray of Brandeis University and Prinisha Badassy of the University of Witwatersrand
The Hour of Decision: Power, Persistence, Purpose, and Possibility in African Studies

The theme of the 63rd Annual Meeting of the African Studies Association draws its inspiration from the persistent calls to action made by African Studies scholars. Their demands for transformative change date back to the early decades following the ASA’s founding in 1957, yet even with appreciable changes in the Association’s membership, leadership, and priorities, the ASA—and the disciplinary and interdisciplinary fields of study it represents—have not yet transcended the old divisions, hierarchies, and exclusionary practices that have long plagued them. Indeed, silos in African Studies still persist despite the deepening transnational epistemological links which have narrowed the divisions between scholars in the US and on the continent. The renewed sense of urgency to confront these challenges—hastened not only by the Association’s recent 60th anniversary but also by the increasing tyranny of our contemporary moment and the brave resistance to it, whether on the streets of Khartoum, Monrovia, Algiers, or Ferguson—offers African Studies scholars a unique opportunity to seize this “hour of decision” to redefine who we are as an association, as a field, as scholars, as activists, and as practitioners. To this end, we invite you to explore the manifold ways that African Studies has been and continues to be a site of power, persistence, purpose, and possibility.

Such an endeavor is a critical step towards fashioning a twenty-first-century pluralistic approach to African Studies that breaks with provincial and parochial modes of engagement. Rather than a prescriptive prompt, we call on scholars to consider the conference theme as an invitation to explore new possibilities in their own research and in the field at large; to contemplate the purposes to which African Studies has historically been put, and to reimagine the purposes to which it might be put now and in the future; and to contend with how power and the structures it produces shape the contours of the field, from curriculum development; graduate training; access to research materials, publishing opportunities, funding, prizes and awards; to the fundamental right to academic freedom, including the freedom to travel across an increasingly fortressed global North-South divide.

Power and Persistence: We invite proposals that explore the implications of the power and persistence of conceptual frameworks—such as the tripartite division of Africa’s history into stagnate periodizations of the precolonial/colonial/postcolonial or the racialized geography implied in the division of the continent into North and Sub-Saharan Africa—that shape how Africa is studied and popularly imagined despite having been subjected to thoroughgoing criticism by African Studies scholars. We also welcome conference papers that examine the enduring questions that shape research agendas in African Studies, asking for instance why some topics have become field-defining, while others have had less staying power? We encourage consideration of the influential methodologies and conceptual innovations or ‘turns’ that have been foundational to the field and to the disciplines, but perhaps now warrant revisiting. We also invite scholars to consider what the power and persistence of the disciplines means for the future of African Studies in a moment when the funding for Area Studies has all but dried up and when universities are consolidating interdisciplinary Area Studies into umbrella programs. Papers exploring the points of connection and conflict between African Studies in the disciplines and in interdisciplinary Black Studies formations are also welcomed, as are presentations that examine the power and influence—past and present—of the major African Studies graduate programs and funding agencies in shaping the contours of the field and disciplines.

Purpose: As laid out in the mission statement of the ASA, the purpose for which this Association was founded and functions is clear: to encourage the exchange, production and dissemination of historical and contemporary knowledge about Africa, past and present. But what then are the purposes of African Studies as a field of academic enquiry? If in the era of Area Studies, African Studies was meant to support US national interests, what are its purposes now? Have they evolved significantly over time or are we still trying to combat the same old tired imperatives, stereotypes and tropes? How does the purpose and production of African Studies shift across the Atlantic in both Africa and Europe, as well as in the Middle East, Asia, and the broader Indian Ocean world? We especially encourage papers that attend to the new purposes to which African Studies scholars on the African continent are investing their intellectual energies and institutional resources. We also invite papers that sift through the ‘lost and found’ of African Studies, as a means of examining how the field has evolved, and the degree to which it has evolved with purpose and intentionality. We also welcome papers that map out the issues and questions that still need examination.

Possibility: The urgency of the ‘hour of decision’ beckons a freshness to African Studies and to the assemblage of experimental and disruptive formulations that we study. Ongoing debates about the relevance of African Studies have provided the momentum to redraw generational and historical blueprints of this field of study. What are the possibilities for a new African Studies? How might they herald a vision of African Studies capacious enough to contend with the challenges wrought by our increasingly fractured global society? Amidst this global crisis, recognizable to many as an age of dissent, how can we mobilize African Studies to safeguard dissenting voices, dissenting discourses, and dissension from the canon? We welcome papers that engage these questions through the prism of possibility. We also welcome papers that rethink settled narratives within a variety of different disciplines to ask what possibilities, what alternatives have we failed to see because of the power of those settled narratives? By dispensing with comfortable and complacent forms of scholarship that are prescriptive, commoditized, or simply fashionable it is possible to charter new avenues for African Studies. How, for instance, might a revised lexicon offer a retreat from the static registers and rhetoric that have long confined the field? To this end, we invite scholars working on new frontiers in African Studies, such as populism, pleasure, personhood, consumption, race, intimacies, derision, queer life, nostalgia, temporality, imaginaries, precarity, animism, curation, and biometrics, to submit proposals that will help to showcase the future of African Studies.

The conference’s thematics also offer ample opportunities for scholars to engage questions of power, persistence, purpose, and possibility in relation to the African past, present, and future in ways that go beyond the organizational and intellectual history of African Studies as a field. We also invite scholars to consider the questions of temporality, imperative, resolve, and political fate bound up in Kwame Nkrumah’s famous phrase, “The Hour of Decision,” which captured the urgency of African independence as the starting point rather than the conclusion of the struggle for African liberation.

Subthemes:
1) Gender, Sexuality, and African Feminisms
a. Danai Mupotsa (University of Witwatersrand)
b. Ousseina Alidou (Rutgers University)

2) Race/Blackness/Africaness
a. Rachel Jean-Baptiste (UC Davis)
b. Christopher J. Lee (Lafayette College)

3) Environment, Conservation, Food Security
a. Mara Goldman (University of Colorado, Boulder)
b. Richard Schroeder (Brandeis University)

4) Indian Ocean Studies
a. Sana Aiyar (MIT)
b. Saarah Jappie (SSRC)

5) Politics and Political Economy
a. Olufemi Vaughan (Amherst College)
b. Abdul-Gafaru Abdulai (University of Ghana)

6) Anthropology
a. Claudia Gastrow (University of Johannesburg)
b. Isidore Lobnibe (Western Oregon University)

7) History and Archaeology
a. Shadreck Chirikure (University of Cape Town)
b. T.J. Tallie (University of San Diego)
c. Rachel Ama Asaa Engmann (Hampshire College)
d. Ismael Montana (Northern Illinois University)

8) Urban Studies and Spatiality
a. Prita Meier (New York University)
b. Samuel Ntewusu (University of Ghana)

9) Health/Healing/Medical Humanities
a. Nolwazi Mkhwanazi (University of Witwatersrand)
b. Anna West (Haverford College)

10) African Philosophy
a. Olúfẹ́mi Táíwò (Cornell University)

11) Education/Teaching/Pedagogy
a. Meghan Healy-Clancy (Bridgewater State University)

12) Policy & International Relations
a. Thomas Tieku (King’s University College at Western University)
b. Zwelethu Jolobe (University of Cape Town)

13) Religion and Spirituality
a. Devaka Premawardhana (Emory University)
b. Joel Cabrita (Stanford University)

14) Literature
a. Moradewun Adejunmobi (UC Davis)
b. Juliana Nfah-Abbenyi (North Carolina State University)

15) Music, Performance, and Visual Arts
a. Salah Hassan (Cornell University)
b. Chika Okeke-Agulu (Princeton University)

16) Popular Culture & Media
a. Ngusekela Mona Mwakalinga (University of Dar es Salaam)

17) Migration/Border Studies Refugees
a. Joseph Assan (Brandeis University)
b. Khangelani Moyo (University of Witwatersrand)
c. Alfred Zack-Williams (University of Central Lancashire)

18) Interrogating African Studies
a. Mukoma wa Ngugi (Cornell University)
b. Meredith Terretta (University of Ottowa)

19) Digital Humanities
a. Angel David Nieves (San Diego State University)

20) Sociology
a. Onwubiko Agozino (Virginia Tech)
b. Assata Zerai (University of New Mexico)

21) Peace and Security
a. Olajumoke Yacob-Halisco (Babcock University)
b. Yonas Adaye Adeto (Addis Ababa University)

22) Special Topics
a. Carina Ray (Brandeis University)
b. Prinisha Badassy (University of Witwatersrand)

Carina Ray, Brandeis University
Prinisha Badassy, University of Witwatersrand