The idea(s) of Africa(s) in a multipolar world: ways beyond the predicament of essentialism
Maria-Benedita Basto (Université Paris Sorbonne Paris 4)
Clemens Zobel (University Paris 8)
Start time:
27 June, 2013 at 11:30
Session slots:

Short abstract:

Representations of people in Africa are often over-determined by colonial legacies, denying historical agency and homogenizing differences. This transdisciplinary panel examines how such ideas are reproduced or displaced through contemporary relations with emerging powers in Asia and Latin America.

Long abstract:

While all social representations bear the mark of institutional power-relations, we argue that as far as ideas on Africa are concerned, one encounters a particular state of over-determination. Work by authors, such as Mudimbe, Hountondji, Appiah, Amselle or Mbembe has examined the interplay between the social, political and economic effects of transatlantic slave-trade and colonialism, on the one hand, and artistic and scientific production, on the other hand. They have shown how individuals and collectives from the continent have often been assigned to a discursive location characterized by a denial of historical and political agency. Significantly, the cultural and racial essentialism which underpins this location is present both in the depreciative discourses of euro-centric evolutionism and in the affirmative gestures of afro-centric particularism. This panel examines how representations of Africa have been affected by the recent emergence of a multipolar global environment in which Western hegemony is increasingly challenged by emerging countries, such as Brazil, China, India, Malaysia and South Africa. Within a transdisciplinary perspective we study the effects of the involvement of these countries within Africa both in terms of the consequences for self-representations on the continent and for ideas on Africa produced in Asia and Latin America. Our objective is to identify the ways through which existing ideas have been reproduced and to explore if and how they have been displaced. Analysis is open to various sources ranging from scientific literature, policy documents, political discourse, and mass-media to school curricula, blogs, film, literature, art and architecture.