Academic journal article The Western Journal of Black Studies

Institutions and Disciplinary Beliefs about Africana Studies

Academic journal article The Western Journal of Black Studies

Institutions and Disciplinary Beliefs about Africana Studies

Article excerpt


An academic discipline is an intellectual community founded on common interests, but it is also an institutional entity (e.g., Abbott, 2001; Brint et al., 2009; Clark, 1982; Veysey, 1965). Academic disciplines are housed within universities, research centers, and non-profit organizations. These intellectual organizations can affect an academic discipline. Universities and other intellectual institutions vary in their goals, resources, and incentives (Brint & Karabel, 1991; Clark, 1982; Parsons, Platt, & Smelser, 1971; Kraatz & Zajac, 1996). The research university has a different mission than the liberal arts college, which affects who is hired and the work they produce. I explore these issues within the field of Africana Studies and ask about the link between institutional contexts and scholarly views. What is the relationship between institutional context and attitudes toward the discipline? How does a scholar's professional position affect their view of Africana Studies?

In this study, I use a unique data set to address these questions. Fielded in 2005, the Survey of Issues in Africana Studies asked tenured and tenure-track Africana Studies professors if they thought Africana Studies has its own distinct methods. I use this data to test three theories about professors and their scholarly beliefs. First, a university's mission may change how a professor views their field. For example, universities have different commitments to research and public service. I call this the organizational mission hypothesis. Second, a scholar may have professional affiliations that might change how Africana Studies scholars view their field. I call this the competing affiliations hypothesis. Third, the Africana Studies program itself may change professional attitudes. Specifically, scholars in stable programs are less likely to emphasize what is distinctive or unique about Africana Studies programs if they feel secure. Scholars may emphasize their field's distinctiveness if they feel the need to justify themselves within the university. Drawing from the field of social psychology (e.g, Coser, 1964; Riek, Mania, & Gaertner, 2006), I call this the group threat hypothesis.

What is Africana Studies?

Like most academic disciplines, there are numerous debates about Africana Studies' mission and identity. In the present essay, I use the term "Africana Studies" because it refers to the broad Diaspora that is now studied by scholars in the units known diversely as African American, Africana, Pan-Africana, or Black Studies (Harris, 2001). There is a debate over Africana Studies' relationship to other disciplines. Since the field's emergence in the 1960s, scholars have asked if Africana Studies is distinct from other disciplines such as history (e.g., Asante, 1983; Norment, 2001; Dagbovie, 2005, 2007), literary criticism (Griffin, 1994) or sociology (Ladner, 1973). This debate is motivated by questions about the academic organization of Africana Studies and the nature of teaching and research. There is one school of thought that views Africana Studies as a kind of interdisciplinary field. Often compared to area studies, such as American Studies, Africana Studies is viewed as a field that has a specific topic but draws its research methods and analytical frameworks from relevant disciplines. For example, scholars in American Studies view themselves as a distinct community, but they draw their analytical frameworks from fields such as history, sociology, and the humanities. Many scholars of African American Studies adopt this model as their own. For example, it has been argued by multiple scholars that history is a core topic in Africana Studies (Dagbovie, 2005, 2007; Karenga, 1993).

Theoretically, a reliance on the tools and methods of other disciplines means that scholars may formulate Africana Studies as an extension of existing paradigms (Daniel, 1980). For example, it has been argued that the way to approach African American literature is to use ideas associated with European literature. …

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