As a young scholar of Anthropology in Africa I have realized that the discipline is slowly missing relevance at least to our young scholars who are joining college. My main concern is the relatively low attention it is getting from both administrators and teachers of Anthropology. This is a course that is always associated with colonization making it look bad towards the people. Europeans used it to govern Africa: they were able to learn people’s political systems, religion and economic way of life this is evident from the great writers like Meyer Fortes and Evans-Pritchard who wrote extensively on the Nuer of Sudan.
Does Anthropology have a role to play in the development of Africa? This is a question I find important for our Kenyan Universities to answer because our African universities are offering the course with units that scare away prospective students. They ought to design it in a way to make it attractive so that it can offer relevance in the 21st century.
I wish to see developed course outlines that prepare a student for real life issues in social and economic transformation. Things like politics of race, tribal, religion and citizenship: this will lead to competent citizens in handling current affairs in terms gender, human rights, and medical anthropology and migration studies. Compared to worldwide universities like University of Massachusetts Amherst campus and university of Sussex they offer high class quality courses both at undergraduate and graduate.
I cry for my beloved Anthropology discipline in Africa because it’s slowly fading away into oblivion. We need to recognize the interplay between culture past (archaeology) and present (ethnology), biology of human beings language. We realize that one who clearly understands these four and the relationship of human thought and action help us appreciate the diversity of truly who we are as human beings. This enables us to engage in formulation of anthropologically interesting problems, ability to apply an appropriate methodology to link an empirical observation using a theoretically informed generalization and ability to achieve this in any environment.
Just as Veronica Strang (2009) puts it “it’s a challenge to clearly define who an Anthropologist is” this is because of the wide areas that anthropologist are trained in. Few normally recognize this fact, as long as what one does/is involved is the understanding of human social behavior then the person is an Anthropologists or doing Anthropology. We need to have a good Anthropological background that assists us to work so that we can handle the contemporary challenges. This is because anthropological training is applicable in many careers that one can decide to pursue.
Anthropology University of Nairobi
Veronica Strang, What Anthropologists do, 2009, Oxford University Press.
I am glad you posted this, Muyekho. I am sure your complaint is often justified: there is still a hangover from the colonial period and many courses are old-fashioned and irrelevant. I think most students anywhere want anthropology to help them grasp contemporary issues of human development and social transformation. The old centres like Britain, France and the US still train a lot of students, but anthropology is more plural than it used to be, as you can see from just looking around at the membership of the OAC.
There is a language problem of course. For example, Brazilian anthropology has recently escaped from its preoccupation with Amazonia to become a wide-ranging investigation of and commentary on Brazilian society as a whole. Most of what is produced is in Portuguese. But automatic translation machines are getting better all the time. Scandinavia and Eastern Europe have flourishing anthropologies, sometimes in a national language, but often in English too. In the English-speaking world, former British territories like Canada, Australia, South Africa and India have lively anthropologies.
I am involved in a research program at the University of Pretoria on Human Economy and started a group here with the same name. Our concerns are definitely similar to yours. But it seems that OAC members have largely given up on participating in groups. If you check the list of groups, you will find several dealing with Africa, development and the rest. But perhaps for now it is better to post a discussion on the main page, as you have, since people seem reluctant to travel far through our archives.
When I did my PhD in Ghana soon after independence, it was impossible to identify oneself as an anthropologist, for the reasons you mention. But that stigma of being associated with colonial empire has slowly been dying and, as a result, anthropology is flourishing in some places now. So you should not be so despondent about your beloved anthropology's prospects. The best is yet to come!
I hope your post stimulates discussion of these issues, not just by Africans, but by members across the board.
Dr. Muyekho Barasa
Thank you. You have brought to light (what I consider) one of the main problems in Anthropology. There is however a thread that runs through the discipline that suggests that Anthropology should "give something back" to the people(s) that it studies rather than just provide the Anthropologist (or his team) a platform from which to publish and/or obtain a more prominent position in the Anthropological community.
This problem has been addressed from outside the Anthropological community in the form of donor/recipient symbiosis. For about 7 years now- there has been major a shift in the many Government and non- government agencies that disperse funds for Anthropological projects. The shift has moved away from projects that simply catalog history and its artifacts in favor of projects that create sustainable development within the project area.
This phenomenon actually brought a close to the work we were doing in Cambodia. The last projects we did reflected the new direction the funding agencies were taking. We concentrated on sustainable development in the form of viewing new Archaeological findings through the lens of the craft production methods of ancient Khmer ceramics. The theft of antiquities was also in the forefront at that time- as producing authentic reproductions of ancient artifacts should conceivably reduce the prestige in owning looted antiquities. Again- the idea was that when we departed we would leave behind a self sustaining system that acted as a subsistence base for the indigenous, kept their cultural heritage alive, and still allowed Anthropologists a window from which to view the past.
Perhaps from the view point of the funding agencies’ is that, the economic imperative is to forget about the old way we used to do Anthropological research and make our new research focus primarily on the economic and social welfare of the people(s) being studied.
but back to your point- Has the curriculum development at Universities caught up to the global realities that will face our new group of Anthropologists heading into the field? Has their University training adequately prepared them to function effectively as Anthropologists in this new global economy?
I think modern Anthropologists must have their feet soundly on the ground of contemporary society rather than in some barely lit far distance past, and this means having a really good knowledge of the historical period as a concise regional analysis. It's apparent this would entail thousands upon thousand of pages of reading- so obviously the salient points relative to the contemporary challenges of today must be gleaned from the material and made into a more compact synthesis of history that takes into consideration, not only history , but, race/gender/class, sociolinguistics, rights of the indigenous, social stratification levels, economic systems, Epistemology of the Indigenous Paradigm as reflected in the pre and post colonial era, the chemical and biological nature of humans, social modeling, ethnocentric notions of right and wrong, and a whole lot of other things- in order that the modern Anthropologist is properly trained.
Veronica Strange refers to "the many careers that one can decide to pursue". I consider this to mean the many opportunities to accomplish our goals as Academic Anthropologists- receive funding, thus meeting our obligations to helping human social groups, and their economic systems to function at both a micro and macro economic level.
Thanks for saying in 4 paragraphs what it took me 3 pages to say.
Its true Klaus it has been long for Anthropology to get recognition across the board.The University administrators do not practice it the lecturers who are very few feel ashamed of themselves.My suggestion in East Africa there is need for a strong Anthropological Association to objectively propagate for the position of Anthropology in the region.In SA region and others its wide and common knowledge that the discipline is respected for its role it plays.Common problems that affect us can't be solved by expertise.Have we ever asked our selves why a lot of Aid is pumped in Africa but few results are witnessed?Our problems are in our minds,so we have to solve the mind before we go to the body.
There's hope...Cry no more for our beloved Anthropology Muyekho. I am a student at the University of South Africa and I am privvy to an anthro curriculum that is outstanding. My very first module "Culture as a human resource in the African Context," I feel is a work of brilliance.
The module co-ordinators addressed your very concern, drawing our attention to the fact that for anthropology to be effective one has to tackle the here and now. They assured us that the pages to follow would be filled with articles and concepts that are up to date and contemporary. They have discontinued the use of textbooks and have turned to articles appearing in scientific journals.
The first assignment highlighted an article "Africa sidelines soccer sorcery." I was thrust into seeing how an every day topic fit into the world of anthropology. I was commissioned into taking actual lines from the article and relating it back to anthropology.
If the curriculum you are faced with is not meeting your standards, i'm sure the departments can look to the Anthropology and Archeology department at the University of South Africa for some guidance.
If it counts for anything, as a relatively young anthropologist living in America, I think African anthropology is every bit as important as any other subfield. In fact, I've been taught that the field of anthropology owes Africa a debt, of sorts, because of our field's dubious colonial beginnings. I'm not saying the field isn't loosing relevance as a whole, because I wouldn't know about that, but as one guy I think it's still pretty important. Actually, if you want any help spreading the word, lemme know. I'm decent at graphic and interactive web design.
--- Ashkuff | http://www.ashkuff.com | Venturing out of “armchair” scholarship and into action, one anthropologist tackles business, occultism, and violence! He gets spooked and roughed up a lot.