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  • Introduction

The Indiana University–Bloomington (IUB) African Studies Program convened a symposium titled “African Studies and the Challenge of the ‘Global’ in the 21st Century” on April 29, 2016, to consider the implications for African studies of the recent trend to establish or reinforce international or global institutes (or schools) as the intellectual and institutional homes of area-studies programs in US universities. Area studies historically have existed in tension with the disciplines, where “universality is claimed for the disciplines and contextuality for the area studies” (Zeleza 2007:1), and they have generally ranked lower, with correspondingly more limited access to resources. The institutionalization of the global adds new challenges and opportunities. The IUB African Studies Program has been engaging these questions and organized the symposium to invite others to participate in the conversation about these issues.

The trend to bring area-studies programs firmly under a global or international umbrella seems to be a response to the pronouncements and reality that we now live in an era of globalization, narrowly understood as a process of the past two decades, predicated on the United States as a center of global power. Scholars routinely agree that the process of globalization has deep historical roots, but they often acknowledge that the particularity of the current era is defined by an intensification of global political, economic, and technological processes, albeit uneven and shifting over time. These processes demand scholarly attention to the rising cultural and economic power of the Global South. Increasingly, this has required a rethinking of many of the familiar terms, theories, methods, and disciplinary boundaries with which scholars and educators worked for much of the twentieth century. Further, it is pushing scholars to reconsider globalization as defined by a Western core and instead to highlight the interactivity of multisited and multivalent processes. For example, in what instances might the global be better conceptualized in terms of borderlands, networks, and processes of circulation, rather than boundaries and nation-states? Are there instances in which the nation-state remains a salient category of analysis for the global? [End Page 52]

A group of IUB African studies faculty members developed a set of questions as a basis for reflection on these issues:

  • • Do these new institutional structures raise the profile of African studies as a field of knowledge production? How do African studies scholars and programs position themselves in this new landscape?

  • • Does the new institutional architecture facilitate collaboration with continental scholars and institutions—one of the foremost issues in African studies today? The Internet and digital media more generally have been hailed as holding promise for stronger and expanded collaboration in research and teaching, but to what extent has this promise been realized? What kind of support is required to realize it?

  • • Are these new arrangements conducive to sustained and deep cross-regional collaborations with colleagues in other centers or institutes, as well as their counterparts in the respective world regions, or does cooperation remain limited to joint symposia, conferences, or workshops? In other words, can we go beyond these conventional engagements to produce deeper and longer-term engagements?

  • • What does this mean for competition over resources in our institutions? What is the way forward in this period of declining resources (within institutions, foundations, and federal support not driven by State and Defense Department priorities)?

  • • How do we educate graduate and undergraduate students in this new environment and facilitate their career paths and professionalization?

  • • How can we avoid the presentism that is often a feature of global or international institutes, whose rationales often limit study to the cage of the eternal now?

The African Studies Program invited Judith Byfield (Cornell University), James Delehanty (University of Wisconsin–Madison), Mamadou Diouf (Columbia University), and Jamie Monson (Michigan State University) to address one or more of these questions at the symposium. Faculty members Beth Buggenhagen (anthropology), John H. Hanson (history and African studies), Pedro Machado (history), and Michelle Moyd (history) offered responses. Professor Akin Adesokan (comparative literature and the Media School) chaired a panel of doctoral students (Meg Arenberg, comparative literature; D. Zachary Baker, comparative literature; Cathryn Johnson, political science; Samson Ndanyi, history; and Oliver Shao, ethnomusicology) who had been asked to provide their perspectives...


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pp. 52-54
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