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Reviewed by:
  • The African Diaspora and the Disciplines ed. by Tejumola Olaniyan, and James H. Sweet
  • Kwame Essien
Olaniyan, Tejumola, and James H. Sweet, eds. 2010. The African Diaspora and the Disciplines. Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press. 376 pp. $75.00 (cloth).

The African Diaspora and the Disciplines, edited by Tejumola Olaniyan and James H. Sweet, provides an overview, an interpretation, and an update on how various disciplines study, construct, silence, and showcase discourse about the African diaspora. It is a kind of "academic postmortem," which seeks to gauge the extent to which the African diaspora has penetrated fenced scholarly spheres. In doing so, the contributors, who come from a broad range of ethnic, academic, and geographical backgrounds, raise concerns about the state of the African diaspora and its absence in the discourse of some fields, especially in geography, sociology, political science, and philosophy (p. 14).

The objectives of the African diaspora project are to create "cross-regional" dialogues about this subject, explore the breadth of its methods, examine varying theoretical frameworks from rigorous interdisciplinary fields, and reevaluate how the African diaspora intersects with other disciplines. The coeditors say their mission is to "illuminate the ways that the African diaspora is understood, produced as an object of study, enabled, and constrained by various disciplines" (p. 2). Olaniyan and Sweet engage their contributors by providing questions that need to be addressed to achieve the goals of the book. They discuss how the African diaspora is defined and conceptualized, how its geographical boundaries are constructed, whether it is limited to a particular continent, how discourse about it is negotiated within other area studies, how it is constrained, how it has affected other fields, and, most importantly, how theories in the field have evolved over time. They include theories that once privileged Eurocentric perspectives [End Page 148] over African-centered issues and discuss how the African diaspora could be explored through nonarchival sites, such as objects, shrines, memories, and the human body.

Olaniyan and Sweet are of the opinion that the survival of the African diaspora does not depend on the consideration, tolerance, or goodwill of other disciplines toward African diaspora studies. Rather, "if anything, students of the African diaspora bear a greater burden in 'disciplining' their scholarship, lest it become haphazard and ungrounded" (p. 4). However, the coeditors and the contributors are not suggesting that the study of the African diaspora should be treated as a separate discipline because of the ways in which it overlaps with other disciplines.

The book is divided into four parts. Part one sets the tone and historicizes the origins of the African diaspora. Part two explores theories across various spectrums. Sociologist Paget Henry acknowledges that Caribbean sociologists have made strides in their interrogation of theories about the African diaspora. Nonetheless he calls for a shift from discourses that showcase or largely draw from Eurocentric ideals to ones that underscore the role of Caribbean scholars and intellectuals who were involved in Pan-Africanism and nationalist movements (pp. 145-148). Part three focuses on aspects of popular cultures. Art historian Moyo Okediji and others explain the intersections of race, class, gender, and sexuality in the diaspora and how they inform or cloud their field of study. The last part of the book brings together issues about silences in areas where dispersed Africans settled, especially Europe.

A striking feature of The African Diaspora and the Disciplines is the piece about genetic diasporas. The work draws from and overlaps with historical, linguistic, ethnographic, and anthropological approaches linking dispersed Africans to the genes and blood groups of their ancestors on the African continent. Indeed, the authors' inclusion of conversations about genetic diasporas deserves praise because of the significance of this discourse, not only to the academic location of the African diaspora in Western academic circles, but also to the study of reverse diasporas. Returnees will now be able to locate the exact locations of their ancestral origins. Just as The African Diaspora and the Disciplines seeks to refurbish discourse on diaspora, Fatimah L. C. Jackson and Latifa F. J. Borgelin make public the "continuing need for more substantive interactions between geneticists and researchers in other disciplines" (p. 96).

Jackson and...


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pp. 148-150
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