Institutions are sites of dynamism, contestation, and continuity. They structure daily life. As the organizations or associations that foster or constrain society, economy, culture, and politics - or as the practices and customs that contour them - institutions bind and render, build and destroy.
The 2017 annual meeting of the African Studies Association marks the 60th anniversary of the ASA. The association is responsible, in part, for institutionalizing the study of Africa in the United States, advocating for informed policy, and building dialogue and exchange with Africa-based scholars and institutions. The 60th anniversary offers a moment for critical reflection on what and who we are as an institution.
From its founding, the ASA has sought to promote understanding of Africa through social scientific and humanistic inquiry on the continent and in the United States. The theme “Institutions: Creativity and Resilience in Africa” invites participants in the 2017 annual meeting to consider how various institutions have been constructed, how they
function, and how they relate to Africa and African Studies. The concept of institutions is far-reaching and comprises the patterns and organizations that have become embedded within societies. Institutions are universities, donors, non-profit organizations, state and legal structures, as well as cultural norms, music and book festivals, religious associations, languages, rituals, interactions and exchange.
Institutions can be simultaneously enduring and ever-changing. Religious institutions and associations have been among the most elastic in terms of identity and geography. Examples include Muslim Orders, African Independent Churches, Brazilian Pentecostal denominations, the Ahmadiyya, and Jehovah’s Witnesses. Formal cultural institutions
are thriving: Dak’Art, the Zimbabwe Book Fair, Cape Town Jazz Festival, the Festival au Désert, Chimurenga Magazine, Kwani? Litfest and Journal, and FESPACO. Media phenomena like Nollywood and M-Net are becoming institutionalized, gaining audiences on and off the continent. We welcome papers on the role of writers, artists,
women, and youth in building, navigating and deconstructing institutions. Equally, we are interested in examinations of African institutions such as the African Union (AU), East African Community (EAC), ECOWAS or SADC and of those organizations engaged across Africa including AFRICOM, the World Bank, World Vision, OPEC, the China
Development Bank, or multinational corporations.
African societies and polities are often criticized for lacking strong and stable formal, “modern,” institutions and Africans are frequently misrepresented as beholden to informal institutions and practices. Yet, African nationalist discourses, philosophies and histories recuperate a different line of argument: the African continent as the birthplace of humanity. Africa has produced resilient structures and practices encompassing strong centralized states, oral epics, secret societies, and wealth-in-people based social systems. Scholars have studied institutions of power and practices that confront them such as the performance by women in West Africa of “sitting on a man” or Southern African praise poetry as a mode of critique.
Moreover, the African continent has a history of strong educational institutions. Ancient universities in Egypt and Mali pre-date those in Europe. Under threat by Islamist extremists in 2013, the Timbuktu manuscripts demonstrate a seven-century long tradition of cross-generational scholarly learning. Universities, some of which are modeled after those in Europe and are the product of colonial invasion and intellectual violence, now train the continent’s youth and pioneer humanities and social scientific research. African students and professors study and teach globally. How have these institutional histories and this global circulation supported or constrained African universities and the building and sharing of knowledge from the continent? The renewed movement by African youth to decolonize the university (expressed by the Rhodes Must Fall movement) points to larger questions of continued neo-colonial relations and the need to decolonize institutions more generally. How do north/south institutional relations continue to operate? How do they constrain or facilitate Africa centered theories and research? Where do social differences based on race, class, ethnicity, gender, and age fit into these complex dynamics? We encourage papers that examine the contested histories, alternative discourses and contemporary dynamics of institutions in Africa, including papers on the ASA itself.
Although it brought together scholars from a variety of disciplines, African Area Studies was a product of the Cold War that fixed our gaze from the perspective of the Global North. Today, many educational institutions in the United States privilege interdisciplinarity and emphasize global studies in response to shifting academic paradigms and
political interests. What challenges do we face if this path towards interdisciplinarity and/or globalization continues and what opportunities emerge? How does our geographic location (on or off the African continent), our institutional location (in Historically Black Colleges and Universities or not; in public or private institutions), or our position as
youth, women, writers, philosophers, or activists shape how we relate to these changes?
The theme “Institutions: Creativity and Resilience in Africa” engages local, national, and transnational scales and multiple temporalities: past, present, future. Where and how have institutions been constructed over time? How have their goals changed? How have they helped to build or constrain knowledge, development, cultural production, and
the inclusion and production of difference? What hidden discourses do they contain? Looking ahead, what innovations are emerging? We anticipate papers that examine how institutions promote or undermine existing gendered, racial, ethnic, class, and generational power differentials and the trends that have influenced the way power operates in
Africa. Global and internal migration, social networking, and mobile banking are some of the new dynamics that influence patterns of cultural, economic and political exchange in Africa and beyond its borders. We encourage scholarship on these emergent and diverse institutions.
The African Studies Association invites you to think with us about the question and place of institutions in the lives of Africans, on the African continent, and in the world from the vantage point of Africa.
1. History and Archeology (Rhiannon Stephens, Columbia University and Kate de Luna, Georgetown University)
2. Policy, Politics, and International Relations (Zachariah Mampilly, Vassar College and Lahra Smith, Georgetown
3. Music, Performance, and Visual Culture (Helene Neveu Kringelbach, University College of London)
4. Literature (Evan Mwangai, Northwestern University)
5. Religion and Spirituality (Shobana Shankar, SUNY Stonybrook)
6. Education (Mary Dillard, Sarah Lawrence College)
7. Environment and Conservation (Emmanuel Kreike, Princeton University)
8. Political Economy and Economics (Pierre Englebert, Pomona College)
9. African Philosophy (Kai Kresse, Columbia University and Gail Presbey University of Detroit Mercy)
10. Anthropology (Claudia Gastrow, University of Johannesburg)
11. Women, Gender and Sexuality (Joyce Chadya, University of Manitoba)
12. Agriculture and Food Security (Renata Serra, University of Florida)
13. Health and Healing (Donna Patterson, Delaware State University)
14. Popular Culture and Media (Carmela Garritano, Texas A&M University)
15. Colonial Epistemologies and the Challenges of Institution Building (Premesh Lalu, University of Western Cape)
16. Institutions of Justice: Human Rights and Law (Alice Kang, University of Nebraska)
17. Institutions and Violence (Michelle Moyd, Indiana University)
18. Cities and Urban Planning (Garth Myers, Trinity College)
19. Institutions and Migration (Beth Whitaker, UNC Charlotte)
20. Institutions, Race and Racism (Wendy Wilson-Fall, Lafayette College and Jennifer J. Yanco, West African Research
21. Youth in Africa: Creating and Navigating Institutions (Jesse Shipley, Dartmouth College)
22. Special Topics (Marissa Moorman, Indiana University-Bloomington and Susanna Wing, Haverford College)