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Towards an Independent Anthropology at African Universities: Possibilities, Challenges and Trajectories

Anthropology in Africa has been facing many different challenges: Anthropology in Africa has to fight accusations of being colonialism’s handmaiden; it has to emplace its academic status amidst social sciences at African universities. Further challenges include the search for research funding as well as for employment for young scholars.

To a certain extent, African anthropologists have been able to overcome some of those challenges such as the problematic reputation anthropology has had amongst social philosophers, political scientists and African nationalists. This has offered new opportunities for African anthropologists in the field of consultancy for governments and development agencies. As Mwenda Ntarangwi et al. (2006) argue, consultancies bear the risk of confining intellectual production to routine reports, hence sacrificing scholarly creativity to survival necessities.

Another challenge echoes calls for decolonization of school curricula: African anthropologists in recent years have been able to develop intellectual agendas, working practices and international collaborations (Ntarangwi et al. 2006). Forging an own identity of anthropology in Africa remains complex since many of its proponents have been trained in traditions of scholarship at institutions in the Global North. Additionally, African anthropologists seek to escape the academic treadmill engaging with theoretical debates mainly taking place in Europe and North America. The goal here is to develop precise and committed analyses addressing realities in their countries.

However, development imperatives and funding opportunities are scarce and inhibit African anthropologists from affording pure research. Some scholars argue that applied anthropology is an inevitable option for African anthropologists working in Africa (Nkwi 2015). Others see pure and applied anthropology as complementing one another, and that data from applied anthropology can be used in theory-building. A last group thinks that the pure/applied dichotomy is not suitable for the African context, where the epistemological demands of donors largely influence the nature of anthropological research (Ntarangwi et al. 2006).

Recently, debates on teaching and practice of anthropology have focused on professionalism (Nkwi 2015). This means that anthropologists should assert their professional identity to minimize the trappings of dependency and to develop methodological and other skills to create jobs for themselves. It becomes obvious that one of the most important solutions to raise the status of anthropology in Africa is to consider teaching and learning (Jegede 2015). Nevertheless, the question remains: What do we teach/learn?

Michael Bollig
Michaela Pelican
Karim Zafer
University of Cologne

Department of Cultural and Social Anthropology, University of Cologne,
Regional Working Group “Africa”, DGSKA, GSSC

Karim Zafer, kzafer@uni-koeln.de

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