Oral Presentation Session - Cosponsored Status Awarded
Sponsored by: Association for Africanist Anthropology
Cosponsored by: Association for the Anthropology of Policy
Of interest to: Students
Primary Theme: Immigration/Migration/Citizenship
Secondary Theme: Technology
This panel examines the interplay between multiple imaginaries. How do people imagine Africa and how do these shifting perceptions impact changing anthropological imaginations of the continent? In recent years anthropological imaginations of Africa have been dominated by structural adjustment and its legacy. Anthropologists have conceptualized day-to-day life throughout the continent in terms of abjection, economic decline, and crises of masculinity. Yet, in the face of increased manufacturing for international export, Chinese investment, a rising university-educated middle-class, return-migration, and the development of digital infrastructure such narratives are clearly inadequate. International companies, states, and citizens are imagining the continent differently, and anthropological imaginations must shift as well. Rather than embrace simplified stories of Africa rising that have emerged among journalists, we argue that new anthropological conceptualizations of the continent must be grounded in case studies of the imagination as it is applied to specific people and places.
Panelists examine cases from across the African continent – Ethiopia, Kenya, South Africa, and Senegal. In Ethiopia international textile manufacturers are attracted by cheap labor and a state-constructed industrial park. Refugees in Kenya use social media to imagine possible futures and new relationships with their host communities. In South Africa perceptions of university students who commit sexual violence force anthropologists to reconsider assumptions about a crisis of masculinity in Africa. In Senegal, returning migrants and young Westerners alike find in Dakar a dynamic and cosmopolitan market for entrepreneurs and other jobseekers. In each of these cases shifting imaginations are key to how people engage with Africa. Africa is perceived as a place with potential, a place with possibilities. These are very specific types of possibility, based in particular economic, historical, and political dynamics.
This exploration of new narrative offers the opportunity to reexamine the question of the utility of Africa as a category of anthropological imagination. Is it time to move beyond this frequently critiqued regional category? Or, do various imaginaries indicate that anthropologists can productively use Africa to continue to structure their inquiries? Further, how can these new imaginaries originating in Africa contribute to our broader understanding of contemporary global dynamics of political economy?