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The birth of Africa-Centred Knowledges. Book Launch at the Research Office
1 August 2014

On a chilly winter’s evening in July, the volume edited by Brenda Cooper and Robert Morrell and published by James Currey (Oxford, UK) was finally born. Francis Nyamnjoh, Professor of Social Anthropology, explained that in Africa new life is important. So he invited the nearly 100 people who attended to celebrate and pour libations upon the new infant. The book was thus enthusiastically welcomed into a community of literature that contributes to Southern Theory.

The idea of the book began in 2009 when Brenda Cooper discussed the possibility of applying the Centre for African Studies Knowledge project to the Research Office goals of transformation and research stimulation with Marilet Sienaert, Executive Director (Research). This formulation became a central feature of the Programme for the Enhancement of Research Capacity (PERC). How could a knowledge project contribute to the reshaping of South Africa as country and UCT as institution? The book is profoundly influenced by the national quest for transformation and commitment to redress. The dominance of Northern Theory – ideas and approaches framed in the industrial north – has not just subordinated Southern approaches but historically has led to epistemic erasure – the loss of knowledges that understand the world in different ways. Professor V.Y. Mudimbe, Duke University, and one of the giants of African philosophy, describes the book as “a major contribution ... It addresses the problems concerning an Africa-centered knowledge, but within the contradictions of today’s global political economy”.

The cover of the book features a picture by world-renowned photographer, Paul Weinberg, of a Kosi Bay fisherman fixing his net. Paul recalled the time, in the mid 1980s, when he had spent time living in a tent at Kosi Bay, trying to record and understand the lifestyle of the local people which was under threat. Ecological, economic and political factors were at work which threatened to undermine the delicate balance of the area and, in the process, threatened to destroy local knowledge. He recalled how David Webster, Wits University anthropologist, had worked in this community and become aware of guns being supplied to RENAMO in Mozambique and how he was assassinated in 1989 for his commitment to defending the rights of the fishermen.

The book has twelve chapters contributed by scholars from all over Africa as well as some based far afield but with a long engagement with the continent. In their Introduction, Cooper and Morrell conclude: In this collection you will find “traces of the unspoken and the misheard. Africa-centred knowledges emerge in conversations that are sometimes difficult to follow as they carry the echo of history and cultural context. And yet, such conversations occur, and they carry the prospect of new imaginings and understandings that, in themselves, unsettle Eurocentric and Afrocentric modalities, and may help to create Africa-centred knowledges.”

Table of contents


The Power of Knowing Crain Soudien

The Possibility of Africa-centred Knowledges
Brenda Cooper and Robert Morrell

Part I: Epistemology – Struggles over Meaning-Making

  1. Validated Knowledge: Confronting myths about Africa
    Lansana Keita
  2. Re-theorising the Indigenous Knowledge Debate
    Lesley Green
  3. Battlefields of Knowledge: Conceptions of Gender in Development Discourse
    Signe Arnfred
  4. Knowing Time: Temporal Epistemology in the African Novel
    Bill Ashcroft
  5. Black Boxes and Glass Jars: Classification in the Hunt for Africa-centred Knowledge
    Brenda Cooper
  6. ‘This is a Robbers’ System’: Popular Musicians’ Readings of the Kenyan State
    Mbugua wa-Mungai

Part II: Policy and Practice – Applying the Knowledge

  1. Science, Fishers’ Knowledge and Namibia’s Fishing Industry
    Barbara Paterson, Marieke Norton, Astrid Jarre and Lesley Green
  2. ICT for Development: Extending Computing Design Concepts
    Ulrike Rivett, Gary Marsden and Edwin Blake
  3. ‘Good Houses Make Good People’: Making Knowledge About Health and Environment in Cape Town
    Warren Smit, Ariane de Lannoy, Robert VH Dover, Estelle V Lambert, Naomi Levitt, and Vanessa Watson
  4. Men of God and Gendered Knowledge Akosua Adomako Ampofo and Michael PK Okyerefo
  5. Retrieving the Traces of Knowledge-making While Editing a Book on Postgraduate Writing
    Linda Cooper and Lucia Thesen
  6. Hunhuism (personhood) and Academic Success in a Zimbabwean Secondary School
    Leadus Madzima

Paul Weinberg Brenda Cooper

Paul Weinberg

Brenda Cooper

Francis Nyamnjoh Robert Morrell

Francis Nyamnjoh

Robert Morrell

Photographs by Thando Mgqolozana

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