Accepted paper:

'One million PhDs': The epistemic politics of doctoral education in Africa


David Mills (University of Oxford)

Paper short abstract:

The discourse of scientific capacity building frames African doctoral education as a productivity challenge, contrasting with calls to decolonise and transform African higher education. This paper explores the limits of academography (Thorkelson 2015) and the importance of disciplinary difference.

Paper long abstract:

The claim that Africa 'needs' another million PhDs has both epistemic and material consequences for the continent's universities. It frames doctoral education as a productivity challenge for institutions, justifying asymmetric funding collaborations and the channeling of resources to a small cadre of elite African science research students. The policy focus on African 'capacity building' also downplays its relational dimensions, and the responsibilities of non-African research 'partners'. Deficit framings of Africa's research capacity are matched by oppositional calls from the social sciences and humanities to 'decolonise' and 'transform' African higher education. These different representations of the university are freighted with political and institutional interests (Bourdieu 1988). In response I make the case for models of academic practice and approaches to doctoral training that acknowledge the contradictory, multidimensional and relational nature of disciplinary research capacities (Burawoy 2004). I use ethnographic examples to argue for visions of African research futures that challenge overtly 'university-centred' analyses.

panel Pol43
The politics of funding knowledge production in Africa