Panel 28

Knowledge Production and Decolonization in African and Development Studies

Panel organiser: Henning Melber, Nordic Africa Institute, Sweden and EADI.


Global knowledge production is still characterized by asymmetries and non-reciprocal relations between the hegemonic global North and its eurocentrism since the era of enlightenment and the so-called global South. Institutions of higher learning as well as research reproduce to a large extent the perceptions and criteria for academic relevance and value as well as knowledge and its production shaped in this history. This is obviously so also the case in African and Development Studies, despite their focus mainly on Southern societies. Current efforts, i.a. by the European Association of Development Research and Training Institutes (EADI) seek to interrogate such practices and mindsets.

This panel is linked to the EADI agenda. It engages with the definition of knowledge and the nature and role of research related activities reproducing paradigms and realities, thereby often at risk to reaffirm the reproduction of one-dimensional perspectives. It seeks to explore alternatives both for a re-assessment of knowledge and its production and dissemination, to counteract the long-established and internalized hegemonic power of definition by predominantly Northern agencies and scholars. It invites contributions engaging with challenges facing genuine research collaboration and knowledge production in a North-South interaction, mapping asymmetries generally and in African realities specifically. It also invites for thoughts on how these limitations might be reduced or eliminated in favour of a truly joint effort towards partnership and mutual respect and recognition as integral part of African Studies. Special attention should be given to the variety of views from within the African continent and African scholars elsewhere engaged in related debates.

Approved abstracts panel 28

1. Knowledge Production and Decolonization

Author: Henning Melber, Nordic Africa Institute, University of Pretoria and University of the Free State.


2. Reflecting the identity and future directions of Development Studies in Tanzania

Authors: Rehema Kilonzo, Department of Development Studies, University of Dodoma, Tanzania & Tiina Kontinen, Department of Social Sciences and Philosophy, University of Jyväskylä, Finland & Colman Msoka, Institute of Development Studies, University of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania & Ajali Nguyahambi, Department of Social Sciences and Philosophy, University of Jyväskylä, Finland.

The paper is a product of long-term academic collaboration between Finnish and Tanzanian universities. It contributes to the ongoing debates over the identity of Development Studies (DS) in different contexts. In a continuation of the historical overview of Tanzanian DS to be published in a volume edited by EADI in 2018, this paper scrutinizes the current identity struggles and potential future directions. The paper presents initial observations on individual interviews conducted with development studies staff from the University of Dodoma, University of Dar es Salaam, and Sokoine University of Agriculture in Morogoro in February-June 2018. In its history of over 40 years of teaching, DS has been rooted in most higher learning institutions as compulsory courses provided to all students. Recently, it has taken a turn and is also offered within the frameworks of independent BA and MA of Development Studies programmes. In addition to reviewing the arguments concerning the future direction and institutional arrangements in regard to teaching development studies, the paper seeks to articulate how theoretical and methodological orientations in Tanzanian DS speak to the changing global contexts and relate to the ongoing debates concerning multi-disciplinarity, inter-disciplinarity and the relationship with communities, policy makers and international development system. Finally, we reflect on the implications of the Tanzanian case, in which the identity of DS is embedded in the legacy of the post-colonial nation-building which was geared towards teaching rather than research, to the general discussion about decolonizing the knowledge production in DS.  

3. Mainstream economics in Africa - a (r)evolutionary appraisal3

Author: Deniz Kellecioglu, Macroeconomic Policy Division, United Nations Economic Commission for Africa, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

This paper is grounded in the ‘coloniality’ literature and critical appraisals of mainstream economics in order to contribute with a comprehensive analytical framework of the problems, attached with a solution-oriented agenda for action. This combination of both problem-determination and solution-orientation is here labelled ‘(r)evolutionary appraisal.’ Ideally, this entails a mix of radical and progressive policy changes that are designed to context, optimally sequenced and dynamically enforced. The paper focuses mainly on the implications of the ethics embedded in this economics, arguing that it helps to entrench and exacerbate power imbalances in African societies. These ethical strands are subtle, under-studied, but embedded in policy, education, research and popular media, and help to shape minds and influence human behaviour into subjugation. They include individualism; egoism; competition, as well as ideological choices that favour capital over workers; corporations over states; all of which are combined with Eurocentric narratives that often reproduce prejudice, colour-coded racism and alienation. Altogether, three main mechanisms are at play: one in which subjugatory ethics is strengthened and nurtured; one in which emancipatory ethics is suppressed or appropriated away; and one in which access to power is directly related to the level of one’s acceptance of subjugatory ethics. The resulting subordination makes it easier to sustain an economic system with widespread poverty and inequality, as well as a political system in which political power is increasingly equal to economic power. These processes form a power system that generates a vicious cycle of subjugatory and destructive imbalances, in which societies become ever-more authoritarian. In response to this bleak diagnosis, three broad processes are forwarded: dismantling the dominance of subjugatory institutions (both structural and ideational); establishing and nurturing emancipatory institutions; while ensuring that access to power and accountability increasingly corresponds to knowledge, ethics, and objectives that are people-oriented, emancipatory and Pan-African.

4. Epistemicide, Indigenous Languages and the Development Question in Africa

Authors: Olamidotun C. Akinyede, the Department of Peace and Conflict Studies, Afe Babalola University, Ado-Ekiti, Nigeria & Adeyemi J. Ademowo, department of sociology, Afe Babalola University, Ado-Ekiti, Nigeria.

Despite years of agitations and continued struggle for quality living standard by Africans, and Pan-Africanists, Africa is still among the underdeveloped continents in the world. In this work, we examined the development question in Africa, with particular focus on the effects of colonial epistemicide and linguicide on African developmental philosophy, most especially how indigenous languages, as repository of indigenous knowledge, can be used as a catalyst. Our position here is that the continued neglect of indigenous languages as medium of everyday communication, in education, and their derision by the African elites in favour of the foreign languages, which is a product of colonial epistemicide, have deprived Africans of enjoying the benefits and contributions that indigenous languages can make to development. The authors posit that African scholars and African government officials must reconsider their attitude to indigenous languages if indeed they desire the much 'sought after' development, which can only be achieved when they address the entrenched epistemicide and utilize indigenous knowledge to the benefit of the continent.

Keywords: Africa, Epistemicide, Indigenous languages, African Development

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