Call for Papers – Speaking in tongues: Power/knowledge and languages divides in African studies

By | September 8, 2011

Following a successful panel on ‘the francophone/Anglophone divide in African studies’ held during the ECAS conference (June 15-18, 2011) in Uppsala, we seek submissions for a special issue in the on-line journal Critical African Studies entitled Speaking in tongues: Power/knowledge and languages divides in African studies.

The broad field of African research is divided across the different languages in and through which empirical realities are represented in African studies. These include French, English, other European languages such as German, Dutch, Portuguese as well as African languages. Issues to do with Western languages in African studies do not exhaust the diversity of conceptual, methodological and practical problems pertaining to language differences in researching Africa but they are useful a lens through which to start apprehending language/power connections in configuring patterns of knowledge production in and on Africa. We seek papers that tackle language as an ‘ontological thing’ in and of itself, as well as a social and political process through which epistemic communities are constructed and reproduced, as they organise understandings of the realities we seek to explain.

In this sense we want to problematise the compartmentalisation of, and relations between different historical-linguistic communities, the ways which they arise as disparate and more or less permeable clusters of research, and the implications for representation politics in African studies. As such, particular emphasis is laid on historical dynamics of decolonisation and post-coloniality as well as the assessment of the contemporary relevance of these dynamics. The linguistic divide allows us, in particular, to examine reflexively research and publication networks as particular epistemological niches, and more crucially to map out the power dynamics that dictate choice and trend in African Studies.

We are particularly interested in papers that situate the language divide at the conceptual level, on the assumption that language, as an analytical anchor point, underscores a variety of material and theoretical issues pertaining to the opportunities and constraints for research in and on Africa on the one hand, and the resilience of conceptual entrenchments and power hierarchies within African research on the other. Crucially, addressing the language divide is also about addressing the displacement of categories of thought and the ghettoisation prevalent within African studies as much as it is about addressing the decolonisation of African Studies as an urgent task. How much of a historical and epistemological continuity do these linguistic communities still denote? How might they still represent different ways of “imagining” Africa and Africans (in Ranger’s understanding) in different discourses and narrative conventions? In other words, to what extent are these linguistic communities the products of particular colonial legacies, and how does cross-fertilisation across linguistic divides provides the basis for creative research and collaboration?

Papers may explore the following topics:
– Language, epistemic communities and the objectivation of African realities
– knowledge production and language-based ghettoisation in African studies
– Postcolonial perspectives on African academia – European language divides, and research innovation
– The prominence of English and conceptual diversity in African Studies
– The contribution and limits of language based organisation (e.g. OIF) in African research
– Problem-framing, research funding and publishing across linguistic communities
– The role of language in Euro-African research cooperation and marginalisation

Procedures for submission of article abstracts: Abstracts should not be over 500 words and should be sent to the Guest Editors of this Special Issue (Amy Niang:, Muriel Cote: by the 30th September 2011. By October 15th, authors will be notified whether they should submit a full version of their article for peer review. The due date for completed drafts of articles is 15th February 2012. Papers should be between 5000 and 8000 words excluding the bibliography. Please do not hesitate to contact the Guest Editors if you have any questions.

Category: CFP