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Author:Sally Matthews (Rhodes University)
Paper short abstract:
This paper reflects on the positionality of African Studies scholars exploring how their positionality affects their ability to contribute to the decolonization of the field.
Paper long abstract:
The field of African Studies has long been criticised for its colonial origins and the continued imprint these origins have on its current preoccupations and orientations. In order to address such criticisms, it is widely argued that African scholars need to play a more central role in the scholarly study of Africa. In making this argument, it is assumed that the social location of such scholars (i.e. their identity as Africans) will mean that their epistemic position will be significantly different to that of the non-African scholars who have historically dominated African Studies and, therefore, that their increased prominence within the field of African Studies is an important component of the decolonization of the field. However, discussions on the decolonization of African Studies also often warn that it is possible for Africans to advance Eurocentric views and therefore imply that one’s social location or identity does not neatly determine one’s epistemic position. This paper reflects on the positionality of African Studies scholars exploring how their positionality affects knowledge production in the field. I hope to fruitfully bring together two distinct but mutually relevant discussions: feminist discussions on the relationship between our social and epistemic locations, and discussions about the decolonization of African Studies. In particular, I reflect on the positionality of those in ‘in-between’ positions (such as African scholars in Europe and white South African scholars) and the effects of such positionality on their contribution to African Studies.
The politics and epistemic value of positionality