Academic journal article Africa

Editorial

Academic journal article Africa

Editorial

Article excerpt

In his inaugural editorial in Africa in 1928, Sir Frederick Lugard observed that the new institution that was responsible for publishing the journal, the International Institute of African Languages and Cultures (it did not become the International African Institute until 1946) was entering a field already crowded with organizations dealing with Africa. His hope was that the IIALC would carve out a distinctive role for itself as a hub or central clearing house, coordinating a disparate international array of institutions and bringing 'scientific study' into contact with 'practical affairs'. The core of scientific study would be anthropological and linguistic, and Lugard saw a useful future for research into African local law and custom, land tenure systems and changes in consumption patterns, among other topics (Lugard 1928).

The journal today can look back in the confidence that it has fulfilled Lugard's mandate. Abandoning fairly quickly the early emphasis on direct engagement in the 'practical affairs' of colonial education and governance, it expanded 'scientific study' far beyond what Lugard had envisaged. In the 1950s and 1960s it was the central platform and reference point for British Africanist anthropology, and there was hardly an issue of the journal that did not contain at least one major, classic study of the society and culture of an African people. More recently there has been a shift to a greater diversity of approaches, greater interdisciplinarity, more attention to history and environmental studies, and a focus not on self-contained ethnic/linguistic groups but on the relations between the local, national and global levels of organization. But the core of the journal has remained ethnographic in the sense of 'grasping ... realities "on the ground", both in terms of concrete social relations and, through the concern with cultural form, with how they seem to the local participants' (Peel 1980: 245). The immensely distinguished past of the journal weighs heavily on the present, and it was with trepidation that I undertook the role of editor, and with it the responsibility to maintain the standards set by my illustrious predecessors: Diedrich Westermann; the war-time editorial team of Ida Ward, M. Green, Margaret Read and M. Wrong; Edwin W. Smith; Daryll Forde; John Middleton and his co-editors David Dalby and David Parkin; J. D. Y. Peel; Murray Last; and Richard Fardon.

Editorial challenges have multiplied and intensified in recent years. Lugard's consciousness of being crowded by other African-oriented outfits may have been prescient. Today, the concentration not only of institutions but also of periodicals concerned with Africa has greatly increased. To speak only of Britain, before Africa arrived on the scene in 1928, the main Africa-oriented scholarly periodical in the country was the Journal of the Royal African Society, later to become African Affairs. There was little overlap: Africa was much more focused on in-depth linguistic and ethnographic studies and, at that period, also much more international--or European-in character, publishing articles in German and French as often as in English. Today, however, these two journals find themselves surrounded by a profusion of other successful Africanist journals covering the study of the continent from every angle. Some represent a single discipline or subject area--history, literature, religion, political economy--and have become required reading for specialists in those areas; others represent a single geographical area of Africa, and attract all the relevant regional specialists. This is obviously a good thing, but it is also a challenge for our journal, which has to keep its footing in a shifting sea of specialist competition. The study of Africa has grown, branched out and become too multiple and complex for a single institution or publication to have any chance of functioning as a hub connecting all the others. Nonetheless, Africa, I believe, does retain today a special place in the Africanist scholarly community. …

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