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Postgraduate Courses

Problematising the Study of Africa: Interrogating the Disciplines (AXL5202F)

Indeed, if we consider the rules of formation of disciplinary knowledge as Foucault attempts to set them out in the Archaeology of Knowledge, we will find that in the dispersal of the disciplines in the colonies, differences will appear at all four levels: in the formation of objects, in the modalities of enunciation, in concept-formation and in the thematic choices.
Partha Chatterjee, “The Disciplines in Colonial Bengal” (34)

This course focuses the paradigms and practices that guide and govern the production of disciplinary knowledge. It seeks to do this by demonstrating the complex relationship between power and knowledge, within the context of the history of Africa since colonialism and the development of the disciplines that study this continent. It draws attention to the links between colonialism and the formation of disciplines, between imperialism and language studies: links that not only cut across disciplines, but were in fact responsible for formulating those disciplinary boundaries in the first place.

Course code: AXL5202F
Type of degree: Postgraduate
Course convenors: A/Prof Harry Garuba & Lwazi Lushaba
Venue: Seminar Room 3.01, Centre for African Studies
Time: Fridays, 11h00 - 13h00

Last updated: Friday, February 19, 2016

Course Outline

Week 1 (19 February): Introduction to the Course: Disciplinary Knowledge and the Study of Africa

Part I

Week 2 (26 February): Knowledge Regimes, Paradigms and Practices


  • Foucault, Michel. 2002. The Order of Things: An Archaeology of the Human Sciences. London & New York: Routledge, ix-xxvi
  • Said, Edward, 1978. Orientalism, Peregrine Books, 1 – 28.
  • Mudimbe, V.Y. 1988. The Invention of Africa, James Currey, ix – 23.

Week 3 (04 March): History


  • Chakrabarty, Dipesh, 1992, “Postcoloniality and the Artifice of History: Who Speaks for Indian Pasts?” Representations 37 (Winter): 1 - 26.
  • Michel-Rolph Trouillot, 1995. “An Unthinkable History: The Haitian Revolution as a Non-Event” Silencing the Past: Power and the Production of History. Boston: Beacon, 70-107.
  • Feierman, Steven. 1993. “African History and the Dissolution of World History.” In Robert H. Bates, V.Y. Mudimbe, and Jean O’Barr. Eds. Africa and the Disciplines.

Week 4 (11 March): History


  • Cooper, Fredrick, 2005, “Postcolonial Studies and the Study of History”, in Loomba, Ania, Kaul, Suvir, Bunzl, Matti, Burton, Antoinette & Esty, Jed (eds.) Postcolonial Studies and Beyond, 401 – 422.
  • Ekeh, Peter. 1997, “European Imperialism and the Ibadan School of History”, in Problematising History and Agency: From Nationalism to Subalternity, State University of New York at Buffalo, 1 – 60.
  • Diawara, Manthia, 1998, “Toward a Regional Imaginary in Africa” in Jameson, Fredric & Miyoshi, Masao (eds.) The Cultures of Globalisation, 103 – 124.

Week 5 (18 March): Anthropology


  • Asad, Talal. 1973. “Introduction” Anthropology and the Colonial Encounter London and Ithaca: Cornell UP: 9-19.
  • Fabian, J. Time and the Other; How Anthropology Makes its Object. New York: Columbia UP, 1983.
  • Clifford, J. 1986. “Introduction: Partial Truths.” In J. Clifford and G. Marcus, Writing Culture: The Poetics and Politics of Ethnography. Berkeley. U. Of California Press: 1-26.
  • Abu-Lughod, Lila. 1991. “Writing Against Culture” in R.G. Fox (ed) Recapturing Anthropology: Working in the Present, School of American Research Press, 137-62.
  • Mudimbe, V.Y. 1988. The Invention of Africa, James Currey, 44 – 97.​

Week 6 (25 March): [Public Holiday]

Essay 1:

In the wonderment of this taxonomy, the thing we apprehend in one great leap, the thing that, by means of the fable, is demonstrated as the exotic charm of another system of thought, is the limitation of our own, that star impossibility of thinking that. Michel Foucault, The Order of Things, xvi.

Using Foucault’s description of the impact of Borges’ fictional encyclopaedia on us, describe and critique the ways in which historical or anthropological knowledge about Africa is produced. Your essay may wish to suggest how the possibilities for alternative modes of knowledge production might be forged. You must demonstrate familiarity with a sample of the course readings so far.


[I]nsofar as the academic discourse of history – that is, ‘history’ produced in the institutional site of the university – is concerned, Europe remains the sovereign theoretical subject of all histories, including the ones we call ‘Indian’, ‘Chinese’, ‘Kenyan’, and so. There is a peculiar way in which all these other histories tend to become variations on a master narrative that could be called ‘the history of Europe’. (Dipesh Chakrabarty, p.1)

Using the readings in this section of the course, examine and critique this statement in relation to African history.

Due date: 08 April

Part II

Re-reading South African Studies
Lwazi Lushaba

In this section of the course we shift our enquiry lenses towards a field of knowledge and/or body of thought known as South African Studies. Three basic questions will guide our engagement with this field of scholarly knowledge – a field whose enlightenment foundations have as yet not been a subject of sustained critical scrutiny. To begin with we shall re-read South Studies in order to tease out the mechanics of the mutually beneficial relationship between this body of knowledge and the colonial project in South Africa (apartheid if you wish). In the development (and reproduction) of the field what is process through which is determined those who within it have the authority to select the domain of objects which constitute its subject matter – we ask. And ultimately it is our intent in this series of seminars to foreground the interpretive transformation that occurs when apartheid is thought through from the positionality of those who are considered as non-people – the black colonised. 

Week 7 (08 April): On the Representation of Colonial South Africa as Democracy


  • Glaser, D. (2001) Politics and Society in South Africa (London: Sage Publications) – Chapter 4
  • Guelke, A. (2005) ‘The Debate on the Nature of South African Racial Policies: Totalitarian or Colonial?’, in A. Guelke (Ed) Rethinking the Rise and Fall of Apartheid (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan) – Chapter 2
  • Butler, A. (1998) Democracy and Apartheid: Political Theory, Comparative Politics and the Modern South African State (London: Macmillan Press)
  • Adam, H., Slabbert, F. and Moodley, K. (1997) Comrades in Business: Post-Liberation Politics in South Africa (Cape Town: Tafelberg) – Chapter 2​

Week 8 (15 April): South African Exceptionalism and the White Colonial Unconscious


  • Kaplan, D. (1980) ‘The South African State: The Origins of a Racially Exclusive Democracy’, Insurgent Sociologist, Vol. 10, Issue 2 – pp 85-96
  • Simson, H. (1973) ‘Fascism in South Africa’, African Review, Vol. 3, No. 3
  • Hudson, P. (2013) ‘The State and the Colonial Unconscious’, Social Dynamics, Vol. 39, No. 2
  • Mamdani, M. (1996) Citizen and Subject: Contemporary Africa and the Legacy of Late Colonialism (Princeton: Princeton University Press) – Chapters 1 and 2​

Week 9 (22 April): Toward a De-colonial Turn in South African Studies


  • Maldonado-Torres, N. (2008) Against War: Views from the Underside of Modernity (USA: Duke University Press) – Preface and Chapter 1
  • Manganyi, C. (1973) Being-Black-in-the-World (Johannesburg: Ravan Press)
  • Modisane, B. (1963) Blame me on History (Johannesburg: Ravan Press)
  • Kuzwayo, E. (1985) Call Me Woman (Johannesburg: Ravan Press)
  • Abrahams, P. (1954) Tell Freedom (London: Allen and Unwin)​

Essay 2:
To be confirmed

Due date: 29 April

Part III

Miscellany: Critical Theory/Literary and Cultural Studies

Week 10 (29 April)


  • Foucault, Michel. 2000. “Governmentality.” Power Essential Works of Foucault 1954-1984.Vol. 3. Ed. James D. Faubion. New York: The New Press. 201-222.
  • Agamben, Giorgio, 1998. Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life. Trans. Daniel Heller-Roazen. Stanford UP. 1-29.
  • Mamdani, Mahmood. 1996. Citizen and Subject, James Currey, 3 – 34.
  • Mbembe, Achille, 2001, On the Postcolony, University of California Press, 1 - 23 and 235 – 243.

Week 11 (6 May): 


  • Guilory, John. 1993. Cultural Capital: The Problem of Literary Canon Formation. U. of Chicago Press. 38-82.

[Note: In class discussions of this essay, you will be required to relate this to the issue of canon formation within your own discipline or field.]

Week 12 (13 May):


  • Garuba, Harry. 2009. “Between Three African Locations: Teaching Things Fall Apart at the Universities of Ibadan, Zululand, and Cape Town.” In Gaurav Desai (ed.), Teaching the African Novel. New York: Modern Languages Association. 321-339.
  • Garuba, Harry. 2010. “Roots and Routes: Tracking Form and History in African Diasporic Narrative and Performance.” Social Dynamics 36.2. 239-55.

Week 13 (20 May):

Discussion of Exam Essay

[This is the final Essay of the Course. It counts for 50% of your grade for this course.]

Critique insists upon analyzing the systemic relations that exist between all the sites of cultural production and consumption. A politically effective critique of literary education would be better served now by discarding the problematic of representation for a problematic whose object is the systematic constitution and distribution of cultural capital. 
John Guillory, Cultural Capital. p.82. (italics added)

With this statement in mind, carve out your own question critiquing the dominance or hegemony of specific disciplinary or critical/methodological paradigms and practices in the study of Africa.

Please note that:

  1. You are free to choose any paradigm but your essay must tie this paradigm to a specific discipline or field of study.
  2. Your essay must demonstrate familiarity with a sample of the course readings so far.

Long Exam Essay Due Date: 03 June 2016