Africa / African / Tradition

Reimagining the Idea of African Traditions

University of Ghana

Tomorrow night I will be in Ghana. I will be attending the International Conference on African Studies, which has the theme “Revisiting the First International Congress of Africanists in A Globalised World”, taking place at the University of Ghana, from October 24 to 26.

I proposed and will be convening a series of panels under the title “Reimagining the Idea of African Traditions.” The panels are Intellectual, knowledge, and research traditions; Race as tradition; and Traditions of men and masculinity.

Here is the introduction of the proposal for panels that I submitted.

Intended to unsettle the prevalent, regressive anthropological idea of African traditions, the proposed set of panels is aimed at provoking scholars on knowledge, gender, and race to reimagine the concept of tradition. In the context of a hegemonic modern, white, capitalist and patriarchal order, in which apparently there is no alternative, how might we go about re-envisioning our understanding of African traditions?

The panelists are asked to reconsider and find new routes and strategies to revitalise the concept away from anthropology. It is submitted that tradition and its analysis, often referred to by different vocabularies, such as canon and paradigm, is in fact a central preoccupation of all disciplined inquiry and teaching given that disciplines are never unconcerned with passing down, elaborating or challenging a tradition, precedence, or established theory. However, except in select disciplines, tradition as regulating structure, as practice, or as configuration for our activities as intellectuals and subjects, goes largely unexamined. A question which calls for multi-, inter-, and trans-disciplinary theoretical positions, approaches and methodologies, then, tradition as a key problematic that enables cross-disciplinary dialogues between African studies, critical race scholarship, masculinities studies, feminism and gender theories, philosophy, epistemologists, and methodologists, amongst a host of potential interests.

Driven by the question to closely examine the way traditions are created, maintained, contested and changed, the panelists will consider the way traditions inform constructions of gender, race, and academic research and knowledge. The tradition panels are therefore informed by a series of questions about knowledge traditions, race as tradition, and gender and sexual traditions (with a special interest in masculine traditions). Some of these initiating questions are: What does it mean to know – the world, self, for example – in the context of hegemonic scientific or academic methodologies and epistemologies? How to analyse African masculinities and genders/sexualities as practices positioned in the stream of tradition yet inevitably engaged with modernity – dramatically exemplified by abakhwetha (new Xhosa initiates at university)? In the rapidly changing world where a significant number of Africans are migrants working and living in multicultural environments far away from ‘home’, what does identifying as African entail in daily existence?  Hence, the series of panels will seek to understand masculinity and gender, race, and knowledge, scholarly and research activities as, or embedded within, tradition.

The panelists are Stella Nyanzi of Makerere Institute of Social Research, University of Makerere; Grace Musila based at the English Department, University of Stellenbosch; Kopano Ratele, Institute for Social and Health Sciences, University of South Africa and the University of South Africa-Medical Research Council Safety and Peace Promotion Research Unit; Akosua Adomako Ampofo of the Institute of African Studies (who are the hosts of the conference) at University of Ghana; Mthetho Tshemese from the Mental Health Unit at Nelson Mandela Academic Hospital; Lindsay Clowes, based at the Women’s & Gender Studies Department at the University of the Western Cape; Deevia Bhana of the School of Education at the coastal University of Kwazulu Natal; Garth Stevens works in the Department of Psychology, University of the Witwatersrand; and Pumla Dineo Gqola is with the Department of African Literature, University of the Witwatersrand.

Professor Gqola will give a presentation under the title “Parenting African Feminist”.

Dr Nyanzi’s talk is on “Queer African Scholarship: Queering African Modes of Knowing, Africanizing Queer Frames of Thinking”.

Dr Musila will give a paper titled “Against paraphrasing – or thoughts on tarrying in critical illegibility”.

Kopano Ratele presents on “Impossible Men”.

The title of Professor Adomako Ampofo’s paper is “Examining Expectations for Contemporary Marriage and Manhood: The Voices of ‘Men of God’”.

Dr Clowes will develop her ideas first published in the journal Agenda. The title of her paper is “Patriarchal Traditions and Masculinity as Vulnerability”.

Professor Bhana is presenting on her work on girls under the title “African teenage women, culture and the pursuit of power, respectability and the reproduction of inequalities”.

Professor Stevens, one of the principals of the Apartheid Archive Project, will offer a paper is entitled “Re-visiting and re-imagining the tradition of the raced subject in post-apartheid South Africa: Some thoughts from the Apartheid Archive Project”.


4 thoughts on “Reimagining the Idea of African Traditions

  1. It was a pleasure to be part of the panels you convened. Thank you for the platform and allowing us to (re)enter African/ Africanist spaces.

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