Brenda Chalfin
University of Florida

I am a Professor of Anthropology and African Studies at the University of Florida. I attended my first  ASA meeting as an undergraduate in 1983. Over the course of my academic career I have benefited from the interdisciplinary and cross-continental exchanges fostered by the ASA, the 5-College African Studies Program (where I received my BA), the Center for African Studies at the University of Pennsylvania (where I received my doctorate), and more recently, the UF Center for African Studies (where I have been teaching since 2001). My research is based in West Africa and addresses the social and cultural dimensions of large scale political and economic change. Among my publications are two books: Shea Butter Republic: State Power, Global Markets and the Making of an Indigenous Commodity (Routledge, 2004) and Neoliberal Frontiers: An Ethnography of Sovereignty in West Africa (Chicago, 2010). I am currently working on a study of public goods and urban infrastructure in Ghana’s city of Tema, and a new research project on maritime governance and off-shore oil in the Western Gulf of Guinea.

Along with training the next generation of Africanist scholars, I am deeply committed to interdisciplinary research and collaboration with African students and colleagues. I have led study abroad programs in Ghana for the University of Denver and the University of Florida and am a long-time affiliate of the Institute of African Studies at University of Ghana-Legon. As a reviewer, faculty-advisor, and grant recipient, I am involved with the US Department of Education Title 6 FLAS and NRC initiatives, the CIEE Fulbright program, and the Social Science Research Council in a variety of capacities. This is in addition to my participation in departmental and university committees and coordination of conferences, speaker-series, and working groups on the UF campus.

I believe the advance of Africa-centered scholarship, promotion of students and scholars of African origin and an informed understanding of African policy debates are essential to US academic institutions committed to global diversity and the redress of global inequalities. The ASA has much to contribute to this project and the wider goal of fostering the equitable circulation of knowledge, resources and persons across countries and continents. To successfully accomplish these objectives, as an ASA board member I will work with members and executives to help the organization broaden its scope and relevance.

In my estimation, the ASA has tremendous potential to enlarge its role in Africa-centered policy debates. To foster the expertise and the impact of its members, the ASA could promote new sorts of working groups focused on concerns such as climate change, infectious disease, or oil and mineral wealth. To enhance its contribution to Africa-based research, the ASA might collaborate with other area studies, scholarly, and philanthropic associations. In order to showcase cutting edge scholarship and tap into the open-access revolution, the ASA should also reconsider the mission and format of the African Studies Review, its flagship publication. New membership categories and member opportunities beyond the annual meeting should be developed. The ASA could also do more to cultivate ties with the private sector without compromising the organization’s ethical standards. These initiatives will boost the resources at the ASA’s disposal and increase the significance of the organization for its members along with policy makers and the wider public.