The Idea of Africa
Full course description
In this comprehensive course - the title of which is taken from Valentin-Yves Mudimbe – we will deal with two questions throughout the period: 1) How have we come to know Africa and 2) To what extent can one speak of an African knowledge (Africanism), and in what sense? (Mudimbe, Invention, p.9). Course readings are predominantly based on writings that are produced either on the African continent or by African writers and/or scholars. We start out the course with an interrogation into how we imagine the continent from within and outside of Africa. Does the “single story” narrative, i.e. stereotypical representations that involve images of poverty, starvation and war, influence our imagination as outlined by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie or is our imagination more multilayered? What comes after is a historical journey into how Africans came into contact with Europeans prior to the Atlantic slave trade. Excerpts from John Thornton’s book, Africa and Africans in the Making of the Atlantic World 1400 – 1800 (2012) will serve as a starting point for this. We then look into African epistemologies of knowledge to explore how African knowledge is constructed and organized. Focusing on Mudimbe’s The Invention of Africa (1988), we explore what he refers to as “African gnosis,” i.e. a term he uses to include African traditional systems of thought into what is generally denoted as African philosophy. We look into the argument in which he states that the colonizing structure has resulted in dichotomizing structures where the traditional is juxtaposed with the modern, the oral with the written, the agrarian with the urban and the subsistence economy with the highly productive economy. This, in turn, has produced marginal societies, cultures and human beings. This task is followed by Aimeé Césaire’s Discourse on Colonialism (1950), an intense and exemplary text from the Black radical tradition written at the height of decolonization movements in Africa and at a time when Western colonial nations were losing their hold on their colonies. From this we take a dive into examples of anticolonial resistance via sections from Saidya Hartmann’s study on the transatlantic slave route as well as Frantz Fanon’s reflections on the complexities of resistance by the Algerian population during the Algerian war. Fanon provides us with a brilliant analysis of the doctor-patient relationship and its significance to the anticolonial struggle. This is followed by exploring how movements such as Pan-Africanism and the Black Consciousness movement in South Africa have affected the African experience. Desmond Tutu’s No Future without Forgiveness (1999), a detailed and fascinating report on South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission comes after this exploration. We conclude the course by delving into contemporary political themes such as African feminism, Queer politics, questions of whiteness in Africa and the politics of “development.”
To become critically reflexive about Western ideas and images of Africa and to dismantle European constructions of the African continent.
The course will provide students with a first-hand experience of reading works by and learning from African scholars from within and outside of the continent.
One 1000 level course in either the Humanities or the Social Sciences. Two 2000 level courses within the following fields: philosophy, sociology, international relations, cultural studies, history, media-and art studies and political science.
SSC2071 Latin America: history, Politics and Cultures, HUM2003 The Making of Crucial Differences
- Course readings are mostly, but not exclusively, based on African writers in-and outside of the African continent. Among the writers and scholars we read are V.Y. Mudimbe, Aimee Cesaire, Saidiya Hartman, Walter Rodney, Frantz Fanon, Desmond Tutu and Steve Biko.