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African Presences: Envisioning Africa in Text and Deed
66th ASA Annual Meeting Call for Proposals
Program Chairs: Claudia Gastrow (University of Johannesburg) and Shobana Shankar (Stony Brook University)
In 2023, the African Studies Association (US) will host one of three congresses in the Sixth International Congress of African and African Diasporic Studies (ICAADS). We see this as an excellent opportunity for reflection on the possibilities for African Studies to be a more inclusive and democratic project. The idea of African presences celebrates the multiple ways in which Africans have transformed the world. The Sixth ICAADS in 2023 also marks the 60th anniversary of the Organization of African Unity, an organization which at its founding sought to create solidarity amongst people across the continent and beyond in the search for substantive freedom and independence. In recognition of these aspirations, we invite participants to approach the question of African presences across time and space, with Africa being constituted in different kinds of bodies, locations, and moments, through many media: text, deed, visual culture, orality, and other modes.
In understanding African presences as stretching across physical and intellectual borders, this call sees African-American Studies, Africana Studies and Black Studies as central to the constitution and creativity of African Studies. It seeks to open up conversations that recognize the historical links between these fields and the futures that can produce collaboration between them. Therefore, African presences must also be understood within the conditions of diaspora past, present, and future—forced and unforced, and the ways in which the study of Africa and Africans in informal and formal spheres is conditioned by relations of power. Educational institutions have long been and continue to be sites of struggle that cannot be separated from the conditions of knowledge production. In this spirit we invite contributions that think through the solidarities and contestations that have shaped African life on and beyond the continent. These include histories of enslavement, empire building, anti-colonial struggle, Pan-African and Third World solidarity, and Black internationalism as well as new practices and forms of global Black solidarity and social movements in the wake of the Arab Spring, Black Lives Matter, #FeesMustFall, #EndSARS, and transnational calls for decolonization.
The theme of African presences is not new—it may recall the long-running era-defining Presence Africaine publication and its many creators or the UNESCO General History of Africa series begun in 1964 to confront the disinformation about the continent and its peoples in European and American knowledge-production. We have been inspired by these earlier projects that refused the separation of Africa from the African Diaspora and that rejected depictions of African diversity as disadvantage or disjointment from global processes and transformations. We recognize the enormity of African presences in what may appear as local: material artifacts such as Queen Njinga’s letters in Portuguese archives and in the everyday life of quilombos in Brazil. African centrality to global popular culture is heard in music sensations such as Burna Boy, genres such as amapiano and dance styles such as kizomba that have remade international embodiments and soundscapes. African political imaginations and movements have reshaped and reconfigured changing geographies of cooperation: in anti-colonial struggles, socialist solidarities during the Cold War, and more contemporary African demands for decolonization stemming from student movements and agitations for gender equality. As such, the notion of presences enables us to imagine multiplicity but also the negotiations of difference in and across struggles for unity.
In seeking to open a discussion about African presences, we invite papers which reflect on what constitutes African presences, as well as the possible implications of loss of presence, for imagining change, hope, solidarity, and contestation across the many spaces and timescapes of Africa. These could include investigations of knowledge formations, histories of activism, indigenous food systems, environmental concerns, new technoscapes, oceanic worlds, reparations, emerging forms of solidarity, transnational racial capitalisms, Africa’s multiple diasporas, and any broader topics that seek to better understand the world-making projects of Africans across the globe. We recognise the diversity of ways of understanding African presences and especially welcome submissions that make use of or provide insight into the possibilities for collaboration and engagement across disciplinary and methodological approaches.
As always, submissions that fall outside the scope of this theme statement are welcome.
2023 Program Committee: