Power dynamics of global knowledge production: research collaboration



Power dynamics of global knowledge production: research collaboration

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).

Research collaborations

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‘No matter how nuanced, how sensitive, how thoughtful, I am no longer going to engage with research and writing about me that does not include someone like me in the research and writing process. No offences to allies writing about “Africa” who are non-African, but really, it is no longer acceptable to source for funding to write about Africans without their own contribution, and I’m not talking about “contributing” to your research as “participants” rather than “respondents” as you debate, within yourself, how the former gives agency to your “subjects”- because, that’s just what they are – fodder for your ego. And no, picking collaborators from spaces of privilege to assuage your guilt does not count. Picking a white collaborator from Cape Town or Nairobi to write about South Sudanese or Somali women does not cut it. Africans are not homogenous carriers of cross-continental knowledge. Cut the crap – the crap of ally-ship, that is. You’re just perpetuating the narratives of white, racist supremacy. And if this post offends you, please, go fuck yourself.’

Scholar based in Nairobi, via Facebook post, August 2017


The limited presence of researchers working at African universities in the leadership of international research projects is an important issue in African Studies. But research collaborations can also marginalize the contributions of researchers based in Africa. In particular, the fact that these research collaborations are financed and conceptualised in the West carries the risk of perpetuating the unbalanced relationships between Western and African researchers. In some North-South research partnerships, the role of researchers in the Global South is limited to data collection for case studies, while researchers from the global North are taking the lead in identifying research questions, in selecting research methods, in the analysis and ultimately as the first authors of the publications. Therefore, collaborative research partnerships need to consciously prioritize the joint development of research questions, the co-creation of research methods, the equal distribution of research tasks, and the co-authorship of publications (see Dodsworth and Cheeseman 2017).


‘It really pisses me off when I talk to northern academics while they’re doing fieldwork in my country and I end up in their papers as an “informant”. I work at an African university, I’m a colleague. Show some respect. It tells me a lot about power dynamics and how we African colleagues aren’t being taken serious by African Studies scholars in the North.’

Scholar based in Kinshasa, personal communication


‘Collaborate [with scholars based in Africa] as intellectual equals, and not as data collectors or logistics officers, which unfortunately is currently the case. Inclusive collaborations are important. Give them training opportunities. Include capacity building in your research budgets to train them and equip their laboratories. When you write papers, give them equal opportunity to actively participate in the writing process. Above all, involve them in the idea development process such that they will build their research and proposal writing muscles.’

Dr Ismael Kimirei, Centre Director, Tanzania Fisheries Research Institute (TAFIRI)