Spring Conference 2010: Politics in Africa: A Reexamination on the 70th Anniversary of African Political Systems

Politics in Africa: A Reexamination on the 70th Anniversary of African Political Systems

Sponsored by the Committee on African Studies at the University of Chicago.

In 1940, E. E. Evans-Pritchard and Meyer Fortes published their now classic edited volume, African Political Systems. The book’s contributors focused on the comparative identification and classification of political types and the achievement of order within them. Since the publication of APS, political reordering has occurred in multiple sites in national and supranational legal systems, in global trends of political and economic governance, in the burgeoning of civil society movements and privatized welfare and policing, in novel visions of locality and grassroots mobilization, and in many other areas. On the 70th anniversary of APS‘s publication, this conference will question how we conceptualize the study of politics in Africa today. In view of the myriad changes since the volume’s creation, should the scholar’s task become an historical reconstruction of political forms (however understood), or should one set out to theorize the political constitution of history? How do these shifts demand new units, modes, and sites of analysis?

The conference will feature keynote addresses by Hylton White, Assistant Professor in the New School’s Department of Anthropology, and Ralph Austen, Professor Emeritus in the Department of History at the University of Chicago. We hope you will join us!

Conference Schedule

Thursday, April 29

7:00pm            Sifinja – The Iron Bride (2009, 70 Min, Mini DV; Valerie Hänsch)

Location: Film Studies Center, Cobb Hall

A film about mobility, human creativity, and technology in a Sudanese truck community. The English Bedford-Lorry was introduced to Sudan in the late 1950s. Since then, local craftsmen technically modify the truck into an ideal vehicle, adequate for traveling off-road and for performing customers’ expectations. The craftsmen and drivers call the lorry “Sifinja” because it is soft and comfortable like the plastic slippers it is named after. In different places in Sudan the carpenters and blacksmiths not only create a shiny iron bride, but they change the whole structure of the lorry through a highly unorthodox performance. Following closely the daily work, art and history of truck-modding on the Nile, a fascinating way of African creativity dealing with global commodities – the automobiles – is opened up. The documentary weaves the original sound of hammering and sawing, drilling and riveting, into a rhythmic, exhilarating audio-visual adventure.

8:30pm            Reception in Cobb Hall

Friday, April 30

Location: Wilder House (5811 S Kenwood, University of Chicago)

9:00am            Breakfast and Opening Remarks

Jean Comaroff and John L. Comaroff

Department of Anthropology, University of Chicago

9:30am            Panel I: Political Belonging

Discussant: Sean Dowdy, University of Chicago

Chair: Betsey Brada, University of Chicago

“’If You Are a Mukamba or Jaluo, You Remain Just That’: The Question of Tribe on Kenya’s 2009 Census”

Elizabeth J. Brummel, University of Chicago

“Specular Visions, Spectacular Violence: Fetish Figurations of Law and Order in the Wake of the Accra Riots of 1948”

Lauren Coyle, University of Chicago

“’The Kikuyu Like Money’: Freedom and Misrecognition in Contemporary Kenyan Politics”

Zebulon York Dingley, University of Chicago

11:00am          Coffee and Tea

11:30am          Panel II: The Spatialization and Materialization of the State

Discussant: Professor Erdmute Alber, Bayreuth University, Germany

Chair: Erin Moore, University of Chicago

“Reckoning Drug-Time: Temporality and the Body in Pediatric HIV Treatment in Botswana”

Betsey Brada, University of Chicago

“The Aesthetics of Citizenship in Post-conflict Luanda”

Claudia Gastrow, University of Chicago

“Imposing Power: The Manasir and Ways of Resistance”

Valerie Hänsch, Bayreuth University, Germany

1:00pm            Lunch

2:00pm            Panel III: Force and Law

Discussant: Nusrat Chowdhury, University of Chicago

Chair: Lauren Coyle, University of Chicago

“Going Beyond the Boundaries of the ‘Political System’: A Mesosociological Approach to Understanding Dispute Settlement”

Anne-Kristin Borszik, Bayreuth University, Germany

“Corporate Law and Rituals of State Rule in Angola”

Filipe Calvão, University of Chicago

“What Lies ‘Beyond the Symbols’: ‘Interests,’ ‘Needs,’ the ‘Mystical’ and ‘Force’ in the Project of African Political Systems

Jeremy Jones, University of Chicago

“Militarization, the State and Violent Political System in Uganda”

Jude Kagoro, Bayreuth University, Germany

4:00pm           Coffee and Tea

4:30pm           Concluding Remarks:

Ralph Austen

Department of History, University of Chicago

Saturday, May 1

Location: Wilder House (5811 S Kenwood, University of Chicago)

9:00am            Breakfast

9:30am            Panel IV: The Making of Transnational Political Subjectivities

Discussant: China Scherz, University of California at San Francisco

Chair: Zebulon York Dingley, University of Chicago

“Basic Needs, Better Selves: American Volunteers and the Humanitarian Exchange in Botswana”

Molly Cunningham, University of Chicago

“Intimate Politics and Ethno-Erotic Economies: Beach-Boy Elders, Prestigious Youth, and the Refiguration of Age among Samburu Men in Kenyan Tourism”

George Paul Meiu, University of Chicago

“Ugandan Girls into Global Feminists? Cultural Brokers, Feminist Empowerment, and the Reproduction of a Social Elite”

Erin Moore, University of Chicago

11:00am          Coffee and Tea

11:30am          Concluding Remarks

Hylton White

Department of Anthropology, The New School

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