African-Centered Theory and Methodology in Africana Studies: An Introduction

Article excerpt

African-centered (and its variations as Africa-centered, Afrocentric, Africentric, Afrocentricity, Africentricity, and African-worldview) theory and methodology within the discipline of Africana studies is at a crossroads. Africana studies, in this special issue, is understood as the critical analysis of Africana life, history and culture from the perspective of Africana people, with the ultimate goal of changing the life chances of Africana people.1 With now eleven doctoral programs in Africana Studies, the most recent emerging in the Department of Pan African Studies at the University of Louisville beginning Fall 2012, students and practitioners in the discipline continue to have critical conversations around and develop theory within Black feminist, Black queer, post (post) modern, critical race theory and historical materialist frameworks, most times at the exclusion of African-centered theory and methodology.2 Dismissed by many contemporary Africana studies scholars as essentialist3 and vindicationist4 at best and heterosexist,5 patriarchal6 and race-based7 at worst, African-centered theory and methodology, for them, neither accurately explains the racial and cultural particulars of African continental and diasporan experiences, nor provides tenable approaches for research that can bring about solutions for "real life" 21st century sociological, political and economic concerns.8 African-centered thought, then, that is, relying on continental African conceptions of the universe and human existence as an approach to ways of making meaning of the human condition, is far from interesting to most scholars and students developing grand theories, subject/content area theories or multi-area theories and research approaches and methodological assumptions in Africana studies. Therefore, issues around the viability of African-centered scholarship are therefore a pressing concern for scholars in Africana studies. This special edition of the Journal of Pan African Studies on "African-centered theory and methodology" is our humble attempt to bring together fresh, reflective, critical and creative writings from this generation of scholars that address reconsiderations of how one can do African-centered research within the 21st century.

In Africana studies, theory types range from grand theories, subject/content area theories to multi-area theories.9 Each provides a particular manner of engaging and explaining phenomena within Africana studies. For example, grand theories come in the form of Afrocentricity, Black Feminism and Black Marxism. Each of these theories has disproportionately focused on questions and issues of perspective. Used interchangeably with the term "paradigm," grand theories within Africana studies provide disciplinary holism and are useful when attempting to clearly discuss the overall interpretation of knowledge and orientations to data within the discipline. Thus, while grand theories provide overall interpretations within the discipline, they inadvertently impact theory production in subject/content area and multi-area theories. Theories that generate out of one of the various disciplinary subcomponents of Africana studies (Africana psychology, Africana sociology, African history, etc.) are best understood as subject/content area theories. For example, within African/Black psychology, we have such theories as Baldwin's theory of Black personality,10 Wright's mentacide,11 Kambon's cultural misorientation,12 Azibo's psychological misorientation,13 materialist depression,14 and a host of other theories which all attempt to deal specifically with the psychology of African people. Baldwin argues that African/Black psychology is concerned with "the interpretation, articulation, institutionalization and perpetuation of the African Survival Thrusts as it relates to psychological phenomena in particular, and the universe in general."15 Thus, each of these theories is concerned with the mechanisms by which we are able to survive and perpetuate ourselves as African people. …