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Decolonising African Studies?

  • Christopher Clapham (a1)


Insistent calls to ‘decolonise’ African studies beg the question of what this quest actually involves. If it refers to an attempt to understand the continent's diverse and complex societies that builds on their indigenous structures and values, this was a task initiated during the decolonisation era of the 1950s and early 1960s. Led by historians and drawing heavily on insights from anthropology, it led to a revolution in the understanding of Africa, which nonetheless failed to maintain its impetus as a result of the political authoritarianism and economic decay of the post-independence period, which had a particularly damaging impact on Africa's universities. Of late, however, the phrase has come to refer to developments notably in North America and Europe, which in subordinating the study of Africa to agendas in the global North may appropriately be described not as decolonisation but as recolonisation. A genuine decolonisation of knowledge production for Africa must rest on a return to its roots within the continent itself.


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I would like to thank Adam Branch and Simukai Chigudu, whose stimulating presentations to the Centre of African Studies seminar in Cambridge helped to prompt this contribution. I am also grateful for comments on earlier drafts from Devon Curtis, Paul Gifford, Ricardo Soares de Oliveira, Harry Verhoeven and Tom Young, none of whom share any responsibility for its contents.



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Decolonising African Studies?

  • Christopher Clapham (a1)


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