Academic journal article Journal of Pan African Studies

Jacob H. Carruthers and the African-Centered Discourse on Knowledge, Worldview, and Power

Academic journal article Journal of Pan African Studies

Jacob H. Carruthers and the African-Centered Discourse on Knowledge, Worldview, and Power

Article excerpt


What is the Sociology of Knowledge?

The sociology of knowledge is the study of the social construction of knowledge (Berger and Luckman 1967). It seeks to explicate the social-contextual, political-economic, and cultural moorings inherent in all facets of human knowledge (Carruthers 1995; Parsons and Shils 1990; Shujaa 2003; Thompson 1997). Thus, whether we are interrogating the conceptual imperatives of the state or capital, the mandates of school curriculum, or even the policy directives of white supremacy and the worldview orientations that it seeks to impose, we are still speaking of knowledge, its social construction, and the broader social milieu in which it occurs. Thus, before delving into the main ideas of this particular study, it is necessary to explore two dichotomous trends within the construction of knowledge - that is, knowledge as an instrument of hegemony and knowledge as an instrument of liberation.

Knowledge and Hegemony

When considered from the state's perspective education must inevitably entail notions of legitimate knowledge. However, what is hidden within the language of legitimacy is the political-economy of hegemony. The notion of "legitimate knowledge" is merely a ruse. It is a means of controlling the conversation about the process of formal socialization-which is schooling. Schooling in the United States is a process that does not typically privilege critical thought and action, but instead encourages conformity to hegemony, rewards apathy to the status quo, and punishes agency with regards to radical social change. Mwalimu Shujaa states:

The society's achievement rewards and the means of accessing them are controlled. Not only does a student have to demonstrate the capacity to meet academic achievement benchmarks, such as standardized test performance at prescribed levels, a student must also play the game according to the rules that the politically dominant culture's elite establish and control. Students who rebel rarely make it-the society's institutional structures are designed to promote conformity to those rules. (Shujaa 2003, 181)

Hence schools do not typically exist as embodiments of the masses' will, but rather as a reflection of state power and the related mandates of capital and white supremacy (Hilliard 1995; Hilliard 1998; Shujaa and Afrik 1996; Stovall 2006; Watkins 2001).

When I refer to hegemony I am referring to terror. But not the terror (or terrorism) symbolized by the color-coded warnings issued by the Department of Homeland Security. Not the terror of religious fanaticism. Nor am I referring to the terrorism of the state as expressed by water cannons, secret prisons, indefinite detention in Guantanamo Bay Prison, and so on. I am referring to the hegemony that Edward Wilmot Blyden alluded to over 130 years ago (Carruthers 1999, 253). I am referring to the conscious mind that is made pliable via terror and trauma spanning centuries. A seasoning process of sorts; one that is born of the most wretched legacy of oppression and its political, cultural, economic, and psychological expressions. Thus terror in this view gains its highest expression as it applies to the assault upon the minds, bodies, and social systems of Africans.

Therefore, when the state concerns itself with "legitimate knowledge" it is not a departure from the historical processes that have established the supremacy of the West or the dominance of capital. This knowledge is of necessity a discourse interested in maintenance of the existing power relations. It seeks, as Blyden has asserted, to establish a most pernicious system of domination. It is the "slavery of the mind" (Carruthers 1999, 253).

Africana Studies and Intellectual Warfare

For Carruthers, Africana Studies was not simply an area of theoretical inquiry, but was a critical ground upon which "Intellectual Warfare" was waged. This intellectual war was not simply over the development of a body of knowledge focused upon African people, but was over (if I may borrow a phrase from Karl Marx) the means of intellectual production, that is, the ideational matrix that interprets the world through a particular cultural lens, and seeks to reorder the world's political-economy along lines most consistent with this interest. …

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