This series on power dynamics of global knowledge production reflects on contestations over how knowledge and power are defined, distributed, and denied in the field of African Studies. It aims to raise ‘questions of access and opportunity routinely elided from – but integral to – formal academic discourse. These questions are not new. Rather, they remain at the forefront of our academic and professional enterprise, and underpin the legitimacy of our diverse endeavours’ (Marks and Kessi).
‘Most of that which is received as knowledge about Africa is produced in the West’ as ‘the general picture of African underrepresentation in world knowledge is replicated across fields, disciplines, and diverse subject matter’ (Mama).
It is known that work by Africa-based scholars is published less frequently in international academic journals than work by other academics. However, work by Africa-based scholars is also cited less than work by other academics. This deficit is not due to differences in methods between Africa-based scholars and everyone else (Briggs and Weathers).
While the publication gap from Africa-based scholars shows that certain voices cannot be heard, the citation gap shows that certain voices do not command attention. Even those Africa-based scholars who make it into the major African Studies journals still do not influence the literature in the way their peers in the global North do (Briggs and Weathers).
As Evans points out, stereotypes are self-perpetuating: by paying more attention to the ideas and analyses from the global North and by citing this work more frequently, widespread assumptions of expertise from the global North are reinforced and alternative perspectives are suppressed. ‘This is self-defeating if we’re trying to understand complex problems’ (Evans).
Mama calls for a ‘commitment to greater levels of collegiality and solidarity with Africa’s […] intellectuals, and taking their critical perspectives more seriously’. To her mind, colleagues based in global North ‘have an ethical responsibility to support, facilitate, and participate in th[e] engagement [of their Africa-based colleagues], instead of just disseminating their own ideas, as if Africa had no intellectuals, no knowledge to contribute’ (Mama).
Would you like to read and cite more works by Africa-based scholars?
The Specialised Information Service for African Studies focuses on the acquisition of literature published on the African continent. The aquisition of this hard-to-find (including “gray”) literature is intended to make African academic debates more visible in Germany. Check out the list of new acquisitions. These works are available through inter-library loan.