Dear ASA Members,
I’m writing the letter for this issue of ASA News to you from Johannesburg, South Africa where I am excited to participate in this week’s “Africa in the World” Conference. This is the second conference which the American Anthropological Association and the African Studies Association have organized together, the first being the Innovation, Transformation and Sustainable futures conference held in June 2016 in Dakar, Senegal in collaboration with WARC and CODESRIA. These events present a unique opportunity to bring together not only the members of our two associations, but a strong network of scholars from across Africa to engage in such a meaningful theme.
This meeting has been led by our incredible Program Co-Chairs, Carolyn Rouse of Princeton U. and Fallou Ngom of Boston U. The meeting has also been enriched by strong collaboration with the U of the Witswatersrand, Wits City Institute, U. Of Pretoria, Anthropology South Africa and the Thabo Mbeki African Leadership Institute at UNISA. This collaboration has been an incredible example of how dynamic and diverse organizations can collaborate across borders, across disciplines, and across campuses to generate a meaningful outcome.
The theme of the Africa in the World event provides us with an opportunity to reflect on the ASA’s own evolution. The Association began as a small group of 35 individuals who met in New York on the eve of African Independence to discuss the newly growing field of African Studies in North America, and has now transformed into a dynamic global network of more than 2,000 members based at institutions around the world. I wonder if our founders could have envisioned that one day the ASA would convene scholars not in New York but in Johannesburg? I wonder if they could have imagined the diverse group of people in our membership and at our conferences as those driving knowledge production about Africa? And even if they could have imagined it, would they have accepted it? In 60 years, it’s clear that some boundaries have shifted, yet we all know that there is still more to be done.
Shifting boundaries of knowledge production is a theme one which has been core to the ASA’s mission over the course of its history, but especially so during the last decade. Given that my first ASA conference was exactly 10 years ago, I feel lucky to have been involved with leading this organization during such an important transformational time. Over the past few years the ASA has struggled to revisit the history of our Association and our identity. This has been led by inspiring inquiry from recent ASA leaders who have challenged the organization to be more inclusive and more Afro-centric.
The ASA began as an association of scholars “of” Africa. As the association has evolved, our boundaries have shifted to include a large constituency of scholars “from” Africa but based in North American Institutions. Now the ASA’s next challenge is to expand its boundaries further to be inclusive of scholars “in” Africa. The ASA must reflect on how we can contribute to broadening the diversity of voices that speak for the field of African Studies. This diversity not just in terms of cultural identity, country of origin, gender and race, but also in terms of language and in terms of accepting and appreciating traditional knowledge generated outside the ivory towers of academia. The ASA has diversified its leadership and for the first time in the ASA’s history we have a program co-chair, Board members, and Journal Editors based in African Institutions. The ASA has more members based in African institutions than ever before due to the activity of our emerging scholars network and a new highly discounted membership for students in African Institutions.
As the ASA reflects critically on the last 60 years of the field of African Studies and looks forward to the next 60, we must ask questions that push the boundaries even further. Given the increasingly complicated situation with visa and scheduling constraints of international academic conferences, and given the incredible resource burden of travel from, to, and even within Africa, should we be finding new ways to foster collaboration using technology to overcome these boundaries? We need to explore how we can amplify knowledge produced in the many diverse African languages and make it not only accessible, but valued, in the same way as Europhone scholarship. If journals produced by presses in the global north continue to be perceived as the source of « knowledge » about Africa how do we change the way these journals function to include more distribution in Africa, access in African libraries, and peer-review and editing by scholars based in African Institutions?
The ASA has strived to address this issue over the last year with the new African Studies Review editorial team, led by Benjamin Lawrance, who has implemented a strategic plan to publish more work generated by Africa-based scholars, including running Africa-based emerging scholar workshops. The ASA has also recently drafted, together with ASA UK and ECAS, a new statement on Publishing and “the sale of rights in African Territories.” The statement was developed in consultation with publishers based in North America, Africa, and the UK. We encourage all publishers of African Studies material to sign on to this set of principles to ensure that scholarly work published outside of the continent is more easily available to our colleagues based on the continent.
As we contemplate together the theme of this week’s meeting in Johannesburg, I’m hopeful that the ASA will rise to the challenge of supporting the next 60 years of African Studies in a way that embraces the theme of “Africa in the World.”
African Studies Association