In this presentation I will argue that African scholarship on Africa is operating at only a fraction of its true potential, and that it is hampered by the preferences, policies and politics of the western academy.
I will make three major points. First, the state of knowledge about African economics and politics is poor because in the higher reaches of the western academies, the focus is not on generating accurate information, but on inferring causal associations at a high level of abstraction, from datasets. And that those datasets are in fact far too weak for any such conclusions to be drawn.
Second, the structure of academic rewards and careers systematically disadvantages those who either do not have the skills or capacities for this kind of high-end quantitative endeavor (although it is profoundly flawed), or have serious misgivings about it. One result of this is a severe dissonance between actual lived experience, and academic work validated by the academy.
Third is what I call ‘Occidentalism’ in theory and policy. Occidentalism is the variant of Orientalism, it is the tendency to ascribe a cogency to the intellectual and cultural products of the west, that it does not in fact possess. Despite sustained critique by historians and anthropologists, the western experience of state formation remains the standard against which the rest of the world is indexed.[…]
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