In Defence of ‘Useless’ Research in African Studies
Research funding in the field of African Studies is increasingly being justified by highlighting the contribution it can make to solving development problems. This is related to the general expectation that scientific research makes a direct contribution to improving human well-being. This development entails epistemological and practical issues that should be at the centre of discussions about the status of African Studies. The entailing epistemological issues are, in fact, neither new nor particular to African Studies. Jürgen Habermas’s thoughts on communicative action were partially a response to what he saw as an assault on the sovereignty of the scientific pursuits that revelled in conceptual clarification while creating an enabling environment for dialogue. In pitting them against the instrumental rationality of the new managerial class with its positivist conception of science, he was rightly drawing attention to the need to revisit the methodology of the social sciences. In a sense, therefore, the expectation that research contributes to enhancing human well-being is part of a larger epistemological challenge that faces the social sciences in general and, by refraction, the field of African Studies. The aim of this seminar is to raise these issues and provide a solid epistemological grounding to the practice of research in African Studies. The claim is that so-called practice-oriented research (i.e. research that yields results in tune with development goals) poses a danger to the theoretical and conceptual integrity of African Studies. A discussion of these issues would seem essential if African Studies is to remain committed to genuine scholarship.
Elísio Macamo is Professor of African Studies at the University of Basel. Having studied in Maputo, the UK) and Bayreuth (Germany), he taught development sociology at the University of Bayreuth and was a founding member of the Bayreuth International Graduate School of African Studies. He has also been a research fellow at the Centre for African Studies in Lisbon (Portugal), an AGORA fellow at the Institute for Advanced Studies in Berlin and a visiting lecturer at Eduardo Mondlane University in Mozambique. He regularly gives methodological workshops to Portuguese-speaking African doctoral students for CODESRIA. His interests include the sociology of religion, technology, knowledge, politics and risk, and especially phenomenological and interpretive approaches to empirical social research. His current research projects focus on the politics of the rule of law and comparative studies of development.
Date: Thursday 21 June 2012
Place: Room 3A06, Pieter de la Court building, Wassenaarseweg 52, Leiden
Speaker: Elisio Macamo, Professor in African Studies, University of Basel
You are kindly requested to register for this seminar.