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Translating concepts from Africa to Europe 
Winnie Kanyimba (University of Basel)
Matthias Maurer Rueda (University of Basel)
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Linguistic and visual (de)colonialisms
Room 1098
Friday 10 June, 14:00-15:30 (UTC+2)

Short Abstract:

This panel makes use of concepts that shaped the histories, politics, cultures and languages of Africa, by applying them to Europe. As such, it focuses on the ways in which those concepts can be translated to study phenomena such as citizenship, nationalism and identity in Europe.

Long Abstract

What happens to concepts if we move them across time and space? In our research we focus on mid-level concepts that were developed to explain social crisis phenomena in Africa, and applying them to contemporary Europe. Our working concept is that of Retribalization, developed during colonial rule to explain the persistence of ‘primordial’ and ‘tribal’ identities of rural-urban migrants. We apply this concept on Switzerland to explain Swiss relations vis-à-vis the European Union. As such, our work will focus on the ways in which colonial concepts developed in Africa can be translated to study phenomena such as citizenship, nationalism and identity in Europe. Translating concepts in such a manner inevitably raises questions on the untranslatability and limits of concepts which we would like to explore in this panel. We believe the contributions of this discussion are three-fold. On the one hand, we hope that by ‘reversing the gaze’ through the application of a concept developed for Africa onto Europe, new insights about Swiss society can be generated which conventional social scientific approaches missed so far. On the other hand, there are important lessons to be learned about the nature of concepts and translation which are highly relevant for addressing some of the key issues in area studies. Lastly, and most importantly in our eyes, the addition of concepts from outside the traditional western sphere into scientific vocabulary is an important step to reduce the epistemic hierarchy that persists between Africa and Europe.

Accepted papers: