AFRI A-731 Seminar on Contemporary Africa
Topic: Ethnography and Social Theory in Africa
Professor Jane Goodman, Dept. of Communication and Culture
As scholars, we are engaged in building social theory through our analyses of social life and communicative practice. Ethnography is a key vehicle through which social theory can be developed. In some cases, social theorists have been ethnographers themselves – Pierre Bourdieu, for instance, developed practice theory and the notion of “habitus” on the basis of his ethnographic research in Algeria. In other cases, ethnographic research has served to hone, complicate, or challenge social theory. Ethnography is also a site for generating new dialogues across theoretical paradigms while at the same time illuminating novel dimensions of social life.
World regions also have their own complex relationships to ethnography. While some regions become ethnographic “blank spots,” others become zones of theory and are revisited by ethnographers time and again. Africa constitutes one such zone. Indeed, the history of 20th-century social theory – from Durkheimian structural-functionalism to the disciplinary technologies of Michel Foucault, from the practice theory of Pierre Bourdieu to the heteroglossia of Mikhail Bakhtin– can be interrogated through the ethnography of Africa.
The course will pair foundational works in modernist and postmodernist theory with ethnographies of Africa that develop and complicate those theories. Approaches we cover may include structural-functionalism; processualism; structuralism; practice theory; interpretive approaches; reflexivity; dialogism and heteroglossia; disciplinary power and discursive formations; and theory from the global south. Students will leave the course with (1) a solid grounding in 20th- and early 21st-century social theory; (2) an understanding of how to connect theory and ethnography; and (3) an introduction to the organization of social and communicative practices in a range of African societies.
Topic: African Histories of Technology
Professor Marissa Moorman, Department of History
This course looks at how African societies have produced and used a wide range of technologies across the long sweep of time. While narratives of technology on the continent have often been those of conquest, victimization or cultural imperialism, this course will explore a broader set of historical experiences to think about how different African societies at different historical moments and places have made and thought about technologies. Readings will include work on iron ore smelting, textile production, architectural technologies, technologies of modernity (medical and infrastructural), and communications technologies (cell phones, radios and cinema). Book presentations, reviews and a seminar paper will constitute the written work for this course.