The African Humanities Program of the American Council of Learned Societies (ACLS) in collaboration with the African Studies Association (ASA), launched the ASA Presidential Fellows Program in 2010. The Program gives African scholars an opportunity to be based at Rutgers University as visiting scholars, while visiting nearby institutions of higher learning, engaging with academics working on Africa-related issues, taking courses, and attending the ASA Annual Meeting.
The ASA will be spotlighting interviews with the Fellows in editions of ASA News, leading up to the Annual Meeting. For this issue we are pleased to share our interview with Dr. Komlan Agbedahin from Rhodes University, in South Africa.
What are your thoughts about being selected to participate in the ASA’s Presidential Scholars programme?
I am humbled and honored to be selected as an ASA Presidential Fellow for 2013. I consider it a golden opportunity. I would like to express my gratitude to Andrzej Tymowski, Director of International Programs at ACLS, and the AHP Steering Committee for recommending me. My appreciation also goes to the African Studies Association (ASA) selection committee for choosing me. I am glad as this serves as a platform to interact with other scholars, and gives me the opportunity to present a paper during the ASA Annual Meeting.
What do you hope you will gain from this experience?
‘Intellectual humility’ teaches me that success in academia depends on a scholar’s level of collaboration with others; therefore making networking a pivotal condition to learn from fellow researchers and make one’s voice heard. I consider this offer from ASA as a gateway to a larger community of scholars, and my exposure to others’ wealth of experiences before, during and after the meeting will indubitably influence my research career in the field of African Studies. I will also seize the opportunity to interact and network with previous and other 2013 ASA Presidential Fellows. In addition I am longing to know how multidisciplinary, interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary research in African Studies is (carried out) in American Universities.
In what ways do you think you might use this experience to mentor other African scholars in your community?
I believe in knowledge sharing and transfer. This experience will be shared through diverse channels including intra-and inter-university research collaboration, conferences, seminars, lectures and supervision.
In what ways do you feel the ASA can better engage African scholars working on pertinent issues that lie at the intersection of African Studies, on the African continent?
The African Humanities Program (AHP) has been encouraging fellows to form discipline- and research interest-based clusters for collaboration through workshops, conferences and seminars. I think the ASA can draw on this model and develop programs that bring together African scholars in the field of African Studies around research themes dealing with those issues deemed pertinent. But I suggest the ASA goes further to encourage research collaboration between Africa- and America-based scholars, as this may pave the way for ‘cross-fertilization’ needed to delve into crucial issues central to African studies. A combination of internal and external perspectives is needed for a healthy scholarship.
What are your thoughts about the role that the ASA can play in helping to consolidate African Studies as a discipline in universities?
On a macro level there is evidence that the gulf between Anglophone universities and Francophone universities negatively impacts upon the collaboration between scholars from the two worlds. Broader continental issues within the domain of African Studies as a field therefore cannot be appropriately investigated. It seems African scholars find it difficult to surmount this challenge which in my opinion, is a replica of the ‘geopolitical complexities’ hindering continental bodies such as the African Union to make headway. Any effort from the ASA to reconcile these two worlds through scholarship around African studies scholarship will be rewarding.
On a micro level, the consolidation of African Studies as a discipline requires the infusion of innovative ideas into the field. A gradual departure from the traditional conception of African Studies as a field, which narrows it to ‘certain disciplines’, is needed. Such change project can only be possible if the scope of the field is broadened to accommodate other university disciplines. There should be a shift to a higher interdisciplinarity in the field of African Studies in order to allow scholars from disciplines other than humanities for instance to really collaborate. In other words the ASA can encourage African Studies research projects encompassing scholars from humanities, soft and even hard sciences. Regular workshops or fora through which African Studies scholars could identify new elements to be included in the field in order to ensure this interdisciplinarity should be organized. For such suggestions to be translated into actions, some level of ‘intellectual humility’ will be required of scholars simply because these novel approaches will tend to challenge conventional approaches to research particularly methodological issues.
The ASA could also encourage African scholars to develop theories to interpret African problems. Many young scholars are becoming uncomfortable with theories that appear alien to African realities. Honest scholars in Africa acknowledge this emerging discontent. They feel somehow intellectually caged; they are compelled to interpret social phenomena with tools they deem contextually inappropriate; encouraging them therefore to develop sound frameworks to study African realities will make them feel involved in the knowledge production project around African issues, and consolidate the discipline itself in their respective universities.