Africa and the Disciplines: The Contributions of Research in Africa to the Social Sciences and Humanities

In This Review

Africa and the Disciplines: The Contributions of Research in Africa to the Social Sciences and Humanities

Edited by Robert H. Bates, V. Y. Mudimbe and Jean O'Barr
The University of Chicago Press, 1993
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This is an important book despite not being wholly successful on its own terms. Its aim is to boost the status of African-area research across a range of academic disciplines, and thus to counter what is often perceived to be the marginalization of Africanists within American universities. Africanists seeking jobs, tenure and inspiration will henceforth be packing this book in their survival kits, and department heads who don't know Nandi from Nuer will find it illuminating.

The book is not a defense of multiculturalism, although its authors on occasion make reference to current debates on that subject; nor is it an attempt to review current research on Africa. Rather, as the title indicates, the editors have challenged their contributors to survey and evaluate the ways in which knowledge gleaned in Africa has shaped the development of their respective disciplines.

Not all the essays are successful, but the volume as a whole remains as close to a collective tour de force in African studies as we are likely to see for some time. If there is a single theme that draws this book together, it is that the production of knowledge is related to the structure of power. In the late twentieth century, as Westerners have increasingly shared the world stage with other claimants to influence, wealth, culture and enlightenment, the narrow identification within the academy of what is Western with what is universal has gradually become less and less tenable ("true") and has thus given way to broader definitions of truth.

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