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 at the Center for African Studies Lounge (1280 Massachusetts Ave., 3rd Floor, Cambridge MA 02138), 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

Professor George Paul Meiu
John and Ruth Hazel Associate Professor of the Social Sciences in the Department of Anthropology and the Department of African and African American Studies



January 28 – Donald Donham

Donald Donham Picture

Presenting: The Erotics of Capitalism: An Atlantic African Example.

Discussant: Casey Golomski

About the presenter: Donald Donham is a Distinguished Research Professor in the Department of Anthropology at the University of California, Davis.  He received his PhD from Stanford University in 1979 and has carried out field research in Ethiopia, South Africa, and most recently, Atlantic West Africa.  He is currently beginning a project on the history of social and cultural anthropology. Professor Donham's principal focus of interest has been understanding forms of power as these changes and the ways that economic systems intertwine with cultural forms. He is particularly interested in historical methodology as it applies to ethnography; Marxism and post-Marxism; narrative as social theory; the interpretation of violence; the history of cultural anthropology; and the ways that sexuality, gender, and class interact in transcultural settings.
His graduate students have worked in Africa, the Middle East and South America. They have researched topics such as the culture of unemployed youth in urban Ethiopia; the politics of land and Zulu identity in rural South Africa; the formation of new forms of religious piety among the Shi'i of Lebanon; humanitarian aid in northern Uganda; architecture as an economic and cultural practice in Buenos Aires; and avant-garde sexualities in an out-of-the way Brazilian city.


February 4 Evan Mwangi

Evan Mwangi Picture

Presenting: Interspecies Sexual Intimacies in African Literature

Discussant: Parker Shipton

Evan Mwangi is an associate professor of English and Comparative Literature at Northwestern University. He is the author of, among other works, Africa Writes Back to Self: Metafiction, Gender Sexuality (2009);Translation in African Contexts: Postcolonial Texts, Queer Sexuality, and Cosmopolitan Fluency (2017); and The Postcolonial Animal: African Literature & Posthuman Ethics (forthcoming).​ He is at work on two new monographs: one on global rewritings of Conrad's Heart of Darkness ​and the other on Indian Ocean cultures.



February 11 - Elizabeth Foster

Elizabeth Foster Headshot

Presenting: A Truly Universal Church: Alioune Diop and Catholic Negritude

Discussant: Jacob Olupona

About the presenter: Elizabeth Foster is Associate Professor of History at Tufts University. She is the author of Faith in Empire: Religion, Politics, and Colonial Rule in French Senegal, 1880-1940 (Stanford 2013), which won the Alf Andrew Heggoy Prize from the French Colonial Historical Society, and most recently, of African Catholic: Decolonization and the Transformation of the Church (Harvard 2019). She has been a Visiting Scholar at Harvard’s Center for European Studies and has received Fulbright, NEH, and ACLS fellowships.


February 25 - Nicholas Githuku

Nicholas Githuku Picture

Presenting:  The Indivisible Global African Experience: A Reflection on an Inter-Permeating Intellectual History.

Discussant: Robyn d'Avignon

About the presenter: Nicholas Githuku holds a Ph.D. from West Virginia University in African history with a focus on Eastern Africa in general, and contemporary political history in Kenya in particular; a Rotary International Mid-professional Certificate in Peace, Development and Conflict Studies, Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok-Thailand (2008); a Master of Arts in Armed Conflict and Peace Studies from the University of Nairobi (2004); and a Bachelor of Arts (1st Class Honors) Degree in History and Political Science &  Public Administration, University of Nairobi (2001).

His research interests include cross-cutting themes in the making and evolution of the generic colonial and postcolonial African state such as the political economy of race and ethnicity and emergent politics; gender & women history; class; and social movements. He is also a student of the history of science and technology; the history of capitalism; British national and imperial history; both the Indian Ocean and the Transatlantic Trade; the intricate, inescapable and dialectical link between power or government legitimacy and resistance in the generic African state; human rights,  development and democratic governance issues in Africa south of the Sahara; auto/biography theory and history; counterterrorism & security issues in Africa and beyond; justice, war & structural peace; peace-building, peace-keeping, postwar reconstruction and nation-building in Africa; structural/latent conflict, negotiation and mediation; African Regional Economic Communities in general and the East African Community in particular and contemporary politics and political trends in the Great Lakes and Horn Regions of Africa; memory and memorialization of war; electioneering and elections; comparative missionary history in Eastern Africa; and military, and (colonial and postcolonial) legal, history.



March 4 - Otu Kwame Edwin

Kwame Otu Picture

Presenting: Amphibious Subjects: Sassoi and the Contested Politics of Queer Self-Making in Neoliberal Ghana.

Discussant: Matthew Leslie Santana

About the presenter: Otu Kwame Edwin is currently an Assistant Professor of African American and African Studies at the Carter G. Woodson Institute for African American and African Studies at the University of Virginia.


As a pre-doctoral fellow in the Carter G. Woodson Institute last academic year, Kwame Otu coordinated the African Studies Colloquium Series at the University of Virginia. His research transects issues of sexual citizenship, gender, human rights NGOs, and neoliberal racial formations in postcolonial Africa, traversing the anthropology of Africa, race, gender and sexuality, queer of color theorizing, critical human rights studies, revolutionary forms of blackness and black aesthetics, and Afrofuturist practice.

The study of race in postcolonial Africa is central to Otu’s work, as are critical inquiries about race in the African diaspora. Otu completed his Ph.D. in cultural anthropology at Syracuse University (2016). In addition to his academic work, Otu has collaborated with Akosua Adoma Owusu, the award-winning Ghanaian-American filmmaker, to produce the film, Reluctantly Queer. It premiered at the Berlin International Film Festival earlier this year and was featured as part of the New Director New Films series held under the auspices of the Film Society Lincoln Center and MoMADr. Otu recently completed a draft of his book manuscript entitled, Amphibious Subjects: Sassoi and the Contested Politics of Queer Self-Making in Neoliberal Ghana, which was submitted to Indiana University Press. An ethnographic project on a community of self-identified effeminate men, known in local parlance as sassoi, the book draws on African philosophy, African/black feminisms, and African and African diasporic literature to make sense of how sassoi navigate homophobia and the increased visibility of LGBT human rights politics in neoliberal Ghana.


March 11 - Lisa Lindsay

Lisa Lindsay Picture

Presenting: Women and Enslavement in Atlantic Africa.

Discussant: Gbemisola Abiola

About the presenter: Lisa Lindsay is Bowman and Gordon Gray Distinguished Term Professor and Chair of the Department of History at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill.  A specialist in the history of Nigeria, the slave trade, and the Atlantic world, she is the author of Atlantic Bonds: A Nineteenth Century Odyssey from America to Africa, which won the African Studies Association’s prize for the best book in any field of African studies published in 2017.  Previous publications include Working with Gender: Wage Labor and Social Change in Colonial Southwestern Nigeria (2003); Captives as Commodities: The Transatlantic Slave Trade (2008); and the co-edited volumes Men and Masculinities in Modern Africa (2003) and Biography and the Black Atlantic (2014).  She has received fellowships from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the American Council of Learned Societies, the National Humanities Center, and the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation. 


March 25 - Ronald Niezen

Ronald Niezen Picture

Presenting: Tracking Herero and Nama Justice Claims from Namibia to Germany.

Discussant: Yookyeong Im

About the presenter: Ronald Niezen is the Katharine A. Pearson Chair in Civil Society and Public Policy in the Faculty of Law and Department of Anthropology at McGill University. He has a PhD from Cambridge University and has done research on Islamic reform in West Africa, justice campaigns in Aboriginal communities in northern Canada and on the international movement of indigenous peoples in the United Nations. His books include: The Origins of Indigenism: Human Rights and the Politics of Difference (University of California

Press 2003) Truth and Indignation: Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission on Indian Residential Schools (University of Toronto Press 2013) and a co-edited volume (with Maria Sapignoli) Palaces of Hope: The Anthropology of Global Organizations (Cambridge University Press 2017).


April 1 - Youssef Carter

Youssef Carter Picture

Presenting:  Daydreaming about Diaspora.

Discussant: Paul Clarke

About the presenter: Youssef Carter is a College Fellow in the departments of Anthropology and African & African-American Studies at Harvard University. Prior to coming to Harvard as a visiting faculty member, he was a Research Fellow for the International Institute of Islamic Thought and Visiting Scholar in the department of Anthropology at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill.

His forthcoming manuscript explores the healing practices, migrations, and exchanges that define the Mustafawi Tariqa of the United States, Spain, and Senegal. Through extensive ethnographic inquiry concerning embodied religious devotions and patterns of exchange, he explores the forms of indebtedness and techniques of pedagogy that structure diasporic networks linking Sufi practitioners in South Carolina and Spain with those in Senegal. His research examines the tremendous labor required to produce Muslimness as an embodied reality and critical resource initially in two key sites of pilgrimage—Moncks Corner, South Carolina and Thiès, Senegal—by demonstrating the important role these sister cities play in a transatlantic Sufi network. As his research reveals, Moncks Corner is the central site in which access to the Sufi Order’s most charismatic living shaykh, Shaykh Arona Faye, has worked for the past two decades teaching and mentoring his students on their spiritual journeys. On the other hand, Thiès is the location where the Order’s founder is buried, and travelers visit the town in order to pay homage to his memory. His current research builds upon these relationships, and meanwhile incorporates an additional Mustafawi site in Cordoba, Spain in order to further track how Atlantic solidarities are produced through the emergence of shared Muslim identities that are encouraged by shared practices of pedagogy that involve extensive toil—work, labor—in common tutelage in spiritual matters. In this way, his work demonstrates how Mustafawi Muslims from South Carolina, to Thiès and Cordoba pool resources and expertise to produce a shared sense of Muslimness and spiritual kinship they transmit through embodied healing rituals. He examines how these sites produce mobility in their ability to operate as spaces of spiritual refuge for visitors in both local and regional contexts by looking at how religious sites produce movement in relation to a broader network. He therefore examines the meaning and discourse of pilgrimage while reading them as displays of reversion and diaspora."


April 8 - Robert Lorway

Robert Lorway Picture

Presenting: Experimental Entanglements: Surveillance Science, Sex Worker Dissidence, and Evidentiary Politics in Kenya.

Discussant: Sophia Roosth

About the presenter: Robert Lorway is Associate Professor of Medical Anthropology in the Centre for Global Public Health, University of Manitoba, where he holds the Canada Research Chair in Global Intervention Politics and Social Transformation. His research analyzes how forms of intervention life unfurl around transnationally-mediated attempts to alleviate the suffering of stigmatized people. He has written two books on the subject, Namibia’s Rainbow Project: Gay Rights in an African Nation, and AIDS Activism, Science and Community across Three Continents. In his current book project, entitled Reassembling Surveillance Science: Sex Worker Activism and Global Health in Kenya, he examines the expansion of scientific and technical knowledge as it diffuses through locally-assembled forms of transnational protestation, drawing upon ethnographic fieldwork and participatory studies conducted with sex workers between 2009 and 2018. Focusing on the vital role played by activist networks in the rerouting and repurposing of scientific knowledge, Lorway sheds light on how these reworkings enable sex workers, as laypeople, to pinpoint and defy the undemocratic imperatives of an experimental order that aims to govern the health of “key populations.” 


April 15 - Jonny Steinberg

Jonny Steinberg Image

Presenting: The Courtship of Nelson and Winnie Mandela: the dizzying quest to live exemplary lives.

Discussant: Sebastian Jackson

About the presenter: Jonny Steinberg is Professor of African Studies at Oxford and is currently Visiting Professor in African Politics at Yale. Among his books are The Number, a history of crime and punishment in South Africa, and A Man of Good Hope, which explores migration and nativism in Sub-Saharan Africa. Steinberg was an inaugural winner of the Windham Campbell Literature Prizes awarded by Yale University and was twice the recipient of South Africa's premier literary award, the Sunday Times Alan Paton Prize. He is currently working on a social history of South Africa's transition to democracy and on a book on the lives of Winnie and Nelson Mandela.


April 22 - Robert Blunt

Robert Blunt Picture

Presenting: Anthropology After Dark: Nocturnal Life and the Anthropology of the Good Enough in Western Kenya.

Discussant: Crystel Oloukoi

About the presenter: Robert Blunt is Associate Professor of Religious Studies and Africana Studies at Lafayette College in Pennsylvania. He holds a BA from Lewis & Clark College in Religious Studies, an MA in Biblical Languages from the Graduate Theological Union, an MA in the Social Sciences and a PhD in Sociocultural Anthropology from the University of Chicago. Rob’s research and teaching have focused on the historical relationships between religion, ritual, and political economy in colonial and postcolonial Kenya. His work reflects general concerns for tracing on the ground shifts between conceptions of morality and economy in Africa as they are expressed, contested, and lived in the interrelated workings of kinship, religion, and patrimonial politics. Rob’s articles have explored the workings of neoliberalism and Satanic conspiracy theory in Kenya, colonial transformations of African religion and ritual, the proliferation of oracular institutions in contemporary Kenyan life, and the implosion of Kenya’s patrimonial economy of circulation. His work can be found in HAU: The Journal of Ethnographic Theory, Suomen Antropologi, Journal of Religion in Africa, Social Dynamics, and Producing African Futures: Ritual and Reproduction in a Neoliberal Age. His book For Money and Elders: Ritual, Sovereignty, and the Sacred in Kenya is forthcoming from the University of Chicago Press in 2019. The book is a historical anthropology of religion, ritual, and sovereignty, framed by a reexamination of a classic anthropological category—what Igor Kopytoff once called “the eldership complex” in East and Central Africa. It focuses specifically on the trajectory of elderhood in Kenya over time, from the precolonial past to the postcolonial present.