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  • Editor's introductionThe Global Dynamism of African Studies
  • Benjamin N. Lawrance

African studies, globally, is an expanding and dynamic research field. New programs are cropping up throughout the African continent, as well as in South America, Asia, and Europe. And the excitement of this energetic growth is palpable. The African Studies Review (ASR) recently (June 2019) had the pleasure of co-convening with African Affairs a series of plenary sessions on journals and scholarly publication at the 9th European Conference of African Studies (ECAS) in Edinburgh, Scotland. In July, four editors attended the Ghana Studies Association [] triennial conference in Accra, Ghana. In October, we will be actively participating in the 3rd biennial conference of the African Studies Association of Africa [] in Nairobi, Kenya. By many accounts, African studies appears to be a varied, vibrant, and diversifying discipline and interdisciplinary space.

At the same time, the ECAS meeting highlighted some of the persistent structural inequalities of African studies. In a 2018 essay entitled "the Gentrification of African Studies," [] the Tunisian commentator Haythem Guesmi took umbrage with the current state of the field. His provocative exposition inspired some in-depth thought about our struggles and limitations as a scholarly collective. It is certainly the case that a great many major African studies conferences take place outside Africa, and this creates structural inequalities with lasting impact. Although every year countless large (>400 participants) as well as smaller conferences take place in different countries in Africa, from Nigeria to Senegal, Kenya to Angola, and everywhere in between, the restrictions on attending conferences outside Africa are considerable. On the other hand, the trend appears to be toward organizing conferences on the continent because African institutions are increasingly cognizant of the numerous benefits of hosting larger meetings and are developing the capacity and relationships necessary for these enterprises. In 2019–20, several academic bodies have planned their first conferences in Ethiopia, Togo, Botswana, Morocco, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. [End Page 1] Others are in the pipeline. And for the past decade, the African Studies Association of Africa has worked tirelessly to link African studies scholars across the continent and stimulate new collaborations. You can join the ASAA and contribute to its impact. Associations are empowered by their members.

Major meetings, such as the African Studies Association (ASA) and African Literature Association (ALA), are indeed important fixtures on the Africanist calendar. Considerable significance is attached to presenting a research paper at these gatherings. Notwithstanding the fact that the ASA and the ALA are both North American conferences, founded in North America in the 1950s and 1960s by scholars based primarily in U.S. institutions and borne of fraught exclusionary struggles, different scholars attribute importance to a variety of divergent scholarly goals, hence the proliferation of numerous coordinate and affiliate organizations []. And yet, importance is a relative term: why and what about a particular meeting is important depends on innumerable and mutable factors. How can we reasonably weigh a national meeting of a national association against, for example, a smaller targeted colloquium that results in an original or pathbreaking anthology? African studies is vastly larger than the ASA and ALA: consider the newest national caucus, the Associação Brasileira de Estudos Africanos, founded in 2018. Moreover, the ASR, one of two journals of the ASA, participated in no fewer than seven conferences in Africa in 2018 and 2019, and each of these meetings has proved to be very important, and in vastly different ways, for the diverse participants. At every conference, new networks are born, new collaborations instantiated, and friendships renewed. Among the most important reasons for hosting conferences in Africa is to increase participation, exchange, and engagement between and among Africa-based scholars.

Accessibility in African studies is foremost in the minds of African studies scholars the world over, but attempts to mediate access do not exist in a vacuum. The hurdles to access are not inconsiderable, and journals, journal consortia, and publishing houses are regularly exploring new...


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