African Studies at a Crossroads: Producing Theory across the Disciplines in South Africa

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African studies in South Africa is currently at a crossroads – of making choices in the process of establishing itself institutionally and reconstituting itself as a discursive and epistemological field, including an interrogation of its histories and a decolonisation of its scholarly legacies. But being at a crossroads does not imply being at a loss; on the contrary, for African studies it means realising its potential of being a hub of critical thinking and a catalyst in the transformation of the humanities and the social sciences in the country and, possibly, internationally. Proceeding from this assumption, I will ask: what are the conditions of possibility for the emergence of African studies in South Africa as a space of transdisciplinary debate, one that is driven by a commitment to socially relevant issues and within which critical standpoints to be voiced by public intellectuals can crystallise? Some approaches critical for the development of such a field are present in South African scholarship, but – as it often happens in hierarchical academic structures – they are scattered across different disciplines or areas of expertise. Further, one of the main problems of African studies scholarship internationally – lying at the core of power inequalities of scholarship in Africa and the West – is the artificial split between “theory” and “(empirical) material” and the question of who is expected to produce what. This article starts with a discussion of the recent debates provoked by a restructuring of African studies and related disciplines at the University of Cape Town. To understand the resonance of these debates, beyond the context of one university and country, they will be placed, firstly, in the international context of African studies and, secondly, in the national context of debating the function and place of the humanities and the social sciences in South Africa. Both contexts highlight the importance of producing critical theory (instead of applying theory produced in the West). Hence, the following three subsections of this article will examine works by South African scholars that, produced within various disciplines (history, sociology and cultural studies), interrelate the insights of these disciplines and, in so doing, initiate new theoretical approaches. Using its crossroads position, African studies in South Africa can become a “laboratory” in which new critical approaches can be interrelated and debated. Opened up to dialogue with African studies in Africa and worldwide, it can become a theoretically invigorating space, nationally and internationally.

Originele taal-2English
Pagina's (van-tot)255-273
Aantal pagina's18
TijdschriftSocial Dynamics
Nummer van het tijdschrift2
StatusPublished - 2014
Extern gepubliceerdJa

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