African Studies Workshop

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The African Studies Workshop at Harvard was inaugurated in Fall of 2012, and continues this year with a new and exciting schedule of presenters.  This workshop is convened by Professors Jean and John Comaroff.  Each Monday evening, starting at 6:00 pm, a scholar presents a paper on one facet of the rapidly changing position of Africa in the global political economy and the impact of that change on global distributions of wealth, well-being, and power.  Workshop presenters are scholars of high international repute as well as up and coming Africanist intellectuals.

The Workshop runs, simultaneously, as an undergraduate/graduate seminar, a professional apprenticeship for doctoral Africanists-in-training across the disciplines, and a laboratory for international scholarly exchange. The intellectual theme for the Workshop is: Africa and the World at Large: Or, What the New Global Order Has to Learn from the Contemporary African Experience.  Under this theme, three major topic foci are addressed:

  • Changing Economies, Changing Politics, Changing Faces of Capitalism

  • State Transformations, Social Order, and the Problem of Crime

  • Health and Crises of Reproduction

The undergraduate/graduate seminar held in conjunction with the African Studies Workshop is led by Professors John and Jean Comaroff. The seminar explores Africa’s changing place in the world – and the new economies, legalities, socialities, and cultural forms that have arisen there.

At each Workshop, a paper, pre-circulated a week in advance through a mailing list, will be presented for critique and discussion. Students, post-docs and workshop attendees are then invited to engage in discussion, under the moderation of the Workshop Chair.


Professor Jean Comaroff 
Alfred North Whitehead Professor of African and African American Studies and of Anthropology, Oppenheimer Fellow in African Studies

Professor John Comaroff
Hugh K. Foster Professor of African and African American Studies and of Anthropology, Oppenheimer Fellow in African Studies


January 29 – Kenda Mutongi
Presenting: Reading Under the Covers: A History of Schooling in Kenya
Discussant: Myles Osborne

About the presenter:  Kenda Mutongi is Professor of African History at Williams College and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Visiting Professor of History at MIT. Her research interests include: Modern Africa (focus on eastern and southern Africa); Women’s and Gender History; Political Economy; Urban History; Historical Ethnography; and Business History. At Williams College, Mutongi has served as chair of the Africana Studies and the Africa/Middle Eastern Studies Programs, is on the editorial boards of several journals in African Studies, and teaches a wide range of courses in the history of 19th and 20th century Africa.

Mutongi was born and raised in a small village in western Kenya. She holds a B.A. in History and English (Highest Distinction, 1989) from Coe College in Iowa, and an M.A. in History and Anthropology (1993) from University of Virginia, where she also earned a PhD in History (1996). She is the author of MATATU: A History of Popular Transportation in Nairobi (University of Chicago Press, 2017); and Worries of the Heart: Widows, Family, and Community in Kenya (University of Chicago Press, 2007), which received an Honorable Mention from the African Studies Association’s Melville J. Herskovits Award for the best scholarly book on Africa in all disciplines. She has also published articles in the main African studies journals.

Mutongi has been a Member at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, and a fellow at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard, and at the Netherlands Institute for Advanced Study in Amsterdam. She has also received grants from the NEH, the Rockefeller Foundation, and the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation.

Her current project examines the history of secondary schooling in Kenya. The study focuses on post-colonial Kenya but also looks back to the turn of the twentieth century when the first schools were established in Kenya. The study will help provide a picture of what it has been like for the students to grow up in a Kenya that is buffeted by all the fears, expectations, and contradictions of a new African nation.




February 5 – Kristin Doughty
Presenting: Converting Threats to Power: Methane Extraction on Lake Kivu.
Discussant: Pauline Peters

About the presenter: 
Dr. Doughty is a political / legal anthropologist with geographic focus in Africa, particularly in Rwanda, where she has been conducting ethnographic research since 2002. Doughty's first book project, Remediation in Rwanda: Grassroots Legal Forums (University of Pennsylvania Press, Ethnography of Political Violence Series, 2016), was driven by an interest in understanding how the contemporary global preoccupation with law and human rights as universalizing frameworks for post-conflict reconciliation shape people’s own efforts to rebuild their lives in the wake of violence. It is based on 18 months of ethnographic research with grassroots legal forums in Rwanda, including genocide courts (gacaca courts) in which suspects from the 1994 genocide were tried among their neighbors before locally elected judges, as well as mediation committees for ordinary disputes (comite y'abunzi) and a legal aid clinic.  Prof Doughty’s current research project, Threats to Power: Cultural Politics of Energy and Unity in Post-Genocide Rwanda, examines the intersection of energy politics and post-genocide reconstruction in Rwanda through a focus on methane extraction in Lake Kivu. This research is funded by grants from the Wenner-Gren foundation and National Science Foundation. Doughty has also researched and/or written on memorialization and education in Rwanda, and on the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda. Doughty’s research has been published in American Anthropologist, Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, Political and Legal Anthropology Review, the International Journal for Transitional Justice, and in several edited volumes. She holds a PhD in Anthropology from the University of Pennsylvania (2011), and has been on the faculty at the University of Rochester since 2012.


February   12 –  David Amponsah
Presenting: Enchanted Geography: India in the West African Popular Imagination.
Discussant: Lydia Walker

About the presenter:  
David Amponsah is Assistant Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Missouri, Columbia. His research focuses on the history of religion in Africa and its diaspora. He is currently working on two book projects. The first (which is nearing completion) is entitled “Unholy Interplay: Shrines, Priests, and British Rule in the Making of Modern Ghana, ca.1800–1957.” In it he examines how colonial statecraft was enacted, contested, and negotiated through the state’s suppression and appropriation of Indigenous religion. This project highlights the inherent paradox in how the state morally and culturally stigmatized indigenous religious beliefs and practices, in an attempt to perform certain conceptions of “modernity” and Christian morality, yet, at the same time, relied on indigenous religious agents. The work combines religious, cultural, and legal histories with analysis of indigenous epistemologies. His second book project, “Enchanted Geography: India in the West African Popular Imagination, 1900–Recent Times,” is a social and cultural history of how and why Ghanaians and Nigerians came to construct India as a reservoir of potent supernatural deities and power. Drawing on an array of sources including colonial archives, newspapers, magazines, pamphlets, ethnographic data, visual culture, material culture, films, oral history, and interviews, the project shows how this imagination of India tapped into a West African indigenous religious tradition.  He serves as a co-chair of the African Religions Group of the American Academy of Religion and he is also on the editorial board of the Journal of Africana Religions.


February 26 – Tendayi Sithole
Presenting: Decolonizing Decolonization: Chinweizu's Critique of Africa's Maldevelopment.
Discussant: Sebastian Jackson

About the presenter: Tendayi Sithole is associate professor at the Department of Political Sciences, University of South Africa. He is the author of Steve Biko: Deceolonial Meditations of Black Consciousness (Landham, MD: Lexington Books, 2016). His second forthcoming book Meditations in Black: Essays from the Limits of Being will be published by Rowman and Littlefields International. Sithole is currently completing a book manuscript on Steve Biko and black critique. Dr. Sithjole’s research areas are
Postcolonial African state, African political thought, decolonial epistemic perspective, Africana existential phenomenology, Black Consciousness, African political philosophy, black radical tradition.


March 5Sindiso Mnisi Weeks
Presenting: Disempowering Rights: The Unintended Consequences of Rights Discourse(s) in South Africa's Legal Culture Clash.
Discussant: Lucie White

About the presenter: 
Sindiso Mnisi Weeks has served as a senior researcher in the Centre for Law and Society at the University of Cape Town (UCT). In her role at UCT, she worked on the Rural Women's Action-Research program. This program combines research, advocacy, and policy work on women, property, and governing authority under customary law. She also taught African Customary Law as a senior lecturer in UCT's Department of Private Law. In 2013-2014, she was a resident scholar at the University of New Hampshire School of Law, where she held a fellowship for the completion of a book.

Mnisi Weeks has published in academic and popular media on customary law, women’s rights, cultural rights, governance, participatory democracy, dispute management, and the South African constitution. As a Rhodes Scholar at the University of Oxford, she researched the tensions between living customary law(s) and South African state law. Prior to Oxford, she clerked for the Deputy Chief Justice of the Constitutional Court of South Africa, Dikgang Moseneke. Her current work focuses on the pursuit of justice and human security in indigenous courts by poor women and men living in rural South Africa.

As a young researcher, Mnisi Weeks is highly rated by the National Research Foundation of South Africa. She has been the recipient of a number of awards, including the Women in Science Award for the Development of Rural Women through Science and Technology.


March 19 – Julie Kleinman
Presenting: Freedoms to Circulate: Rethinking Borders and Belonging Through West African Mobility.
Discussant: Ingrid Monson
About the presenter:  Julie Kleinman is an urban anthropologist working in France and francophone West Africa. Her research examines how migration changes urban spaces and social relations. She is completing her book manuscript, titled Borders in the Capital: Public Space, Migration, and the Making of an African Hub in Paris. In this book, she examines how young West African migrants use the largest railway station in Europe—Paris’s Gare du Nord—to get by under precarious conditions. Since 2013, she has been doing fieldwork in Mali (Bamako and Kayes) for a second book project on return migrants’ novel approaches to political participation and development projects. Dr. Kleinman has also done research on the construction of cultural difference in French schools, French urban planning and “African” markets in Paris, social activism and humanitarian aid in Mali, and the transnational kinship practices of Malian migrants.

Dr. Kleinman’s work has been funded by the SSRC and the Mellon Foundation and has received prizes from the Society for the Anthropology of Europe and the Society for Urban, National, and Transnational/Global Anthropology. She was a Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow in the Humanities at Oberlin College, and Assistant Professor at Penn State University before coming to Fordham. In the Spring of 2018, she will be a McMillan-Stewart Fellow at the Hutchins Center’s W.E.B. Du Bois Research Institute of Harvard University.



March 26 – Joanna Davidson
Presenting: The Problem of Widows: Making and Unmaking Marriage in Rural West Africa.
Discussant: George Mieu
About the presenter: Joanna Davidson is a cultural anthropologist whose research interests include cultural conceptions of knowledge, anthropological engagements with development, and the politics of storytelling. Dr. Davidson has conducted ethnographic research in Guinea-Bissau since 1999, where she has focused on rural West Africans’ responses to environmental and economic change. She is the author of Sacred Rice: An Ethnography of Identity, Environment, and Development in Rural West Africa (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016). She is also the co-editor of Narrating Illness: Prospects and Constraints (Oxford: Interdisciplinary Press, 2017).

Dr. Davidson has also conducted research on the regional dynamics of social fragility through a case study of inter-ethnic conflict across the Guinea-Bissau/Senegal border, and explored the ways in which new international development initiatives directed at agricultural transformation are playing themselves out in the sub-region. She has presented testimony and prepared policy briefings based on her research for the UN, served on the Executive Board of the American Ethnological Society, and served as a reviewer of research proposals for the Wenner-Gren Foundation, and been the Program Chair for the Association for Feminist Anthropology. She has been the recipient of grants and fellowships from various organizations including the Woodrow Wilson Foundation, the Social Science Research Council, the National Science Foundation, the Wenner-Gren Foundation, and Boston University’s Center for the Humanities.

Throughout her career Dr. Davidson has tacked back and forth—and attempted to translate across—academic and practitioner/policy spheres. Her current research and teaching interests emerged both through the empirical context of her fieldwork engagement in West Africa, and as ongoing concerns to connect anthropological scholarship with development thinking and practice. Prior to graduate studies in anthropology, Dr. Davidson worked for several years with a range of progressive non-governmental international development organizations in Africa and Latin America on issues such as refugee resettlement, indigenous rights, women’s and rural development, and social entrepreneurship.

Dr. Davidson’s current research explores storytelling as a form of knowledge and practice increasingly taken up by professions – such as medicine and law – not otherwise known for their attention to narrative. She is also continuing several lines of inquiry in rural Guinea-Bissau that pertain to shifts in gender relations, and especially reconfigurations of women’s power.


April 2 – Anooradha Iyer Siddiqi
Presenting: Domesticating the Margin in East Africa," and examines the construction of the East African borderland between present day Kenya/Somalia/Ethiopia (colonial Britain/Italy) through a history of modern territorial formation, settlement, and architecture.
Discussant: Kay Shelemay
About the presenter: 
Anooradha Iyer Siddiqi
received a PhD in the History of Art and Archaeology from the New York University Institute of Fine Arts, and her historical and ethnographic research focuses on spatial politics, urbanisms, and modernist culture and discourses, drawing from primary research in East Africa and South Asia. Siddiqi is writing a book manuscript entitled Architecture of Humanitarianism: The Dadaab Refugee Camps and Emergency Urbanism in History; it examines a history of forced migration through liberating and coercive settlement in Kenya and the Somali borderlands, the visual rhetoric of the Dadaab refugee camps, and humanitarian spatial practices, material culture, and iconography from the eighteenth century to the present. She is conducting research on the figuration of the modern architect and field of architectural practice in imperial South Asia for another book project, Vocal Instruments: Minnette De Silva and an Asian Modern Architecture; it examines constructions of and claims on craft, patrimony, heritage, and modernism in the discourses and practices of the Archaeological Survey of India, the colleges of architecture and engineering, and the journal MARG, refracted through the intellectual work of architect Minnette De Silva and those in her spheres. Siddiqi’s work has received support from the Fulbright Scholar Program, the American Institute of Indian Studies, the Social Science Research Council, the Graham Foundation, New York University, and the National Endowment for the Arts. She co-edited the volume Spatial Violence, and practiced architecture in the United States and India. She will be joining the faculty of Barnard College in 2018. Anooradha is a current Fellow at the Mahindra Humanities Center at Harvard University.


April 9– Lauren Coyle
Presenting: Spectral Laws of Gold in Ghana.
Discussant: Emmanuel Akyeampong
About the presenter:  
Lauren Coyle Rosen is Assistant Professor of Anthropology at Princeton University. She trained as a cultural anthropologist and as a lawyer. She received a Ph.D. in Anthropology from the University of Chicago (2014) and a J.D. from Harvard Law School (2008). Her research and teaching interests lie at the intersections of legal and political anthropology, critical theory, historical ethnography, epistemology, spirituality, subjectivity, psychoanalysis, capitalism, dialectics, and symbolic power. Her geographical focus is on Ghana and, more broadly, on Africa at large. She is also an external faculty member at the Stevanovich Institute on the Formation of Knowledge at the University of Chicago. Prior to assuming her professorship, she was a fellow at the Princeton Institute for International and Regional Studies. Before this, she was a lecturer on law and social studies at Harvard, as well as a fellow at the W.E.B. Du Bois Research Institute in the Hutchins Center at Harvard.

Rosen is working on a book titled Fires of Gold: Law, Land, and Sacrificial Labor in Ghana, an ethnography of the often-hidden violence, spiritual power, and cultural transformation in the penumbra of Ghana's gold mining -- a signal sovereign dilemma and "poisoned chalice" for postcolonial Africa. Rosen is also at work on a second book titled Law in Light: Truth, Time, and Ritual Power in Global Africa, a comparative anthropological study of the experiential and philosophical dimensions of ritual subjectivity, revelation, and veracity within various states of consciousness. Rosen's work has appeared (as Lauren Coyle) in Telos, Transition, and Rethinking Marxism, as well as in an edited volume, Corporate Social Responsibility? Human Rights in the New Global Economy (University of Chicago Press; Charlotte Walker-Said and John Kelly, eds.). She has an essay in press, "Fallen Chiefs and Sacrificial Mining in Ghana," in The Politics of Custom: Chiefship, Capital, and the State in Contemporary Africa (University of Chicago Press; John Comaroff and Jean Comaroff, eds.).

Rosen's research has been supported by awards and fellowships from several sources, including the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Social Science Research Council, American Council of Learned Societies, American Philosophical Society, Wenner-Gren Foundation, Lincoln Institute, Some Institutes for Advanced Study (SIAS), Institute for Global Law and Policy at Harvard Law, and Program on the Study of Capitalism at Harvard, as well as the University Center for Human Values and the University Committee on Research in the Humanities and Social Sciences at Princeton. In 2016, she was awarded a 250th Anniversary Fund Award for Innovation in Undergraduate Education at Princeton. She currently sits on the executive committee of the Program in African Studies at Princeton. Rosen has served as Associate Departmental Representative for the Department of Anthropology and as a Faculty Fellow for the Fung Global Fellows Program at Princeton


April 16 – Daniel Smith
Presenting:  Every Household Is Its Own Local Government: Informal Economies and Entrepreneurial Infrastructure in Nigeria.
Discussant: Jacob Olupona

About the presenter: 
Daniel Smith Jordan received an AB in Sociology from Harvard University in 1983, a Master of Public Health (MPH) degree from Johns Hopkins University in 1989, and his Ph.D. in Anthropology from Emory University in 1999. He joined the Department of Anthropology at Brown University in 2001.

Smith conducts research in Nigeria focusing on a range of issues, including population processes, political culture, kinship, gender, and health. He won the 2008 Margaret Mead Award for his first book, A Culture of Corruption: Everyday Deception and Popular Discontent in Nigeria (Princeton University Press, 2007). Smith’s second single-authored book, AIDS Doesn’t Show Its Face: Inequality, Morality, and Social Change in Nigeria (University of Chicago Press, 2014), won the 2015 Elliott P. Skinner Award from the Association for Africanist Anthropology. His most recent book is To Be a Man Is Not a One-Day Job: Masculinity, Money, and Intimacy in Nigeria (University of Chicago Press, 2017).

Smith has completed several major research projects with grants awarded by NSF, NIH, the Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research, and the Templeton Foundation, with a primary focus in the HIV epidemic in Nigeria. He was the recipient of the 2007-9 William C. McGloughlin Award for Teaching Excellence in the Social Sciences and in 2015 he was appointed Royce Family Professor of Teaching Excellence. From 2006-2011 he served as Associate Director of Brown’s Population Studies and Training Center. At Brown, he is currently Chair of the Anthropology Department and Director of the Watson Institute's Africa Initiative.


April 23 – Adam Habib
Presenting: #FeesMustFall and the Advancement of Social Justice.
Discussant: Lawrence Bobo
About the presenter: 
Adam Habib is an academic, researcher, activist, administrator, and renowned political commentator and columnist.

A Professor of Political Science, Habib has over 30 years of academic, research and administration expertise, spanning five universities and multiple local and international institutions, boards and task teams. His professional involvement in institutions has always been defined by three distinct engagements: the contest of ideas, their translation into actionable initiatives, and the building of institutions.

Habib is currently the Vice-Chancellor and Principal of the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits). He is also the Chair of Universities South Africa, which represents vice-chancellors and higher education in the country. In these roles, he has been working with government, students and other stakeholders to find solutions to the recent wave of protests around funding for higher education. He has also focussed on building African research excellence, and together with the University of Cape Town, Wits initiated the African Research Universities Alliance (ARUA).

Prior to joining Wits, Habib served as Deputy Vice-Chancellor for Research, Innovation, Library and Faculty Coordination at the University of Johannesburg (UJ). He was instrumental in transforming UJ following the nationwide mergers of tertiary institutions in 2005 and played a key role in increasing research output. He also served as Research Director on Governance and Democracy, and Executive Director at the Human Sciences Research Council. He held several academic and research posts at the University of Natal, including Professor in the School of Development Studies and Research Director of the Centre for Civil Society.

Habib holds qualifications in Political Science from three universities, including the University of Natal and Wits. He earned his masters and doctoral qualifications from the Graduate School of the City University of New York.

Transformation, democracy and development are fundamental themes of his research. His latest book, South Africa’s Suspended Revolution: Hopes and Prospects, has informed debates around the country’s transition into democracy, as well as its prospects for inclusive development.

Habib’s contributions recently resulted in his election to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, in addition to serving as a fellow of both the African Academy of Science and the Academy of Science of South Africa.