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How NOT to Write About Africa? Lessons from African Studies in India

Asia
Developing World Politics
Global
International
Comparative Perspective
Theoretical
Vineet Thakur
Leiden University, Institute for History
Vineet Thakur
Leiden University, Institute for History

Abstract

In a polemical piece titled ‘How to Write about Africa’, Binyavanga Wainaina had satirized writings, mostly Western, about Africa. Africa, in his words ‘is to be pitied, worshipped or dominated’. While literary and casual writings about Africa offer themselves relatively easily to critique, academic literature, operating under the garb of objectivity, usually escapes the critical scrutiny. Only recently has scholarship become attentive to deeply racial undertones of writings about Africa in IR, for instance. Over the past few years, calls for decolonizing knowledge production have increasingly emphasized listening to voices from the Global South, i.e. Asia, Africa, the Middle East, and Latin America. However, it is also important to reflect on how the knowledge centers in the Global South have been writing about each other. For the purpose of this essay, I will take the case study of African Studies in India and map the way Africa is written about. In critiquing some of the dominant themes of Indian scholarship, I will argue that non-western perspectives do not in themselves contribute to decolonizing knowledge. In a concluding section, the paper reflects on the ways in which Asian trajectories of knowledge formation about Africa can significantly differ from the West.