Academic journal article Journal of Pan African Studies

Trends of Epistemic Oppression and Academic Dependency in Africa's Development: The Need for a New Intellectual Path

Academic journal article Journal of Pan African Studies

Trends of Epistemic Oppression and Academic Dependency in Africa's Development: The Need for a New Intellectual Path

Article excerpt

Introduction

Development studies, regarded as a post-World War II preoccupation (Bernstein 1971), was greatly influenced by the 1948 Marshal Plan and the 1949 Truman Declaration which further elucidates its Eurocentric underpinnings generally. The process of decolonisation that occurred in the 1950s and 1960s made development both an ideology and an instrumental doctrine of the times, placing Africa at the centre of most of these discussions (Sumner 2006). But the fact is that from modernisation theory in the early 1950s to the contemporary neoliberal Washington consensus, Africa has been the recipient of many policy and ideological prescriptions, most of which only worsened the condition of the continent. Given the important role of knowledge in the development discourse and based on Robert Cox's (1986) popular premise that "theory is always for someone and for some purpose," this paper seeks to critically examine the state of African scholarship and whether or not it is capable of driving development initiatives on the continent. Michael Burawoy distinguishes between professional, policy, public and critical knowledge, each with its specific intents and objectives--the first two being instrumental knowledge and the last two being reflexive knowledge (Burawoy 2007). On the contrary, we posit that these types of knowledge are mutually constitutive. In our society where knowledge has a high price tag and thus, "lacking credibility is a considerable difficulty if one wants to make significant knowledge claims" (McConkey 2004). Hence, one can even be deprived of this credibility even when the context in question is one's own spatial location.

Undergirding this whole notion of academic dependency, epistemic oppression, injustice or inequality is cultural imperialism or chauvinism--the tendency to privilege one's culture over others based on the perception of one's own superiority. Cultural imperialism in this context refers to Western-centrism or Eurocentrism. Simply put, "Cultural imperialism describes the experience of groups who have their means of expression curtailed" (ibid., 202) often for a plethora of reasons. Hence, this trend has been the bedrock of the inability of many African countries and scholars in Africa to write and speak about their own situations. Some knowledge is deemed 'indigenous' or 'traditional' while others are deemed 'modern' and 'scientific', thus bearing the qualities of what constitutes 'good scholarship'. Other terms worth defining at this juncture are 'Euro- or western-centrism' and 'western scholarship'. Eurocentrism (or westerncentrism), as used in this paper, implies the neglect of geographical diversity and the imposition of one's ethnic group (in this case Anglo-American) and its standards over others with underlying superiority or narcissism (Bernstein 1971). Western scholarship, on the other hand, has nothing to do with geography per se; it is rather a 'world of thinking' or mindset.

Thus, what we mean by 'Western scholarship' is scholarship that perpetuates Eurocentrism in the sense that it celebrates theories, methods and research practices popularised in a particular area of the world without due regard to the diversity of perspectives existing elsewhere. Such practices and theories, according to Nabudere (1997), "tend to ignore the peculiarities of different countries and cultures seeking to find an existence within the international capitalist system of the world". Furthermore, since it is not limited to geography, scholars anywhere in the world can be promoting this kind of scholarship consciously or unconsciously. But it is no doubt a bane to epistemic freedom in the African context, as argued below.

The history of colonialism, coupled with the current socio-economic realities in many African countries (as well as the perpetuation of imperial or neo-colonial tendencies) has placed the continent in an unfortunate dilemma of whether to stick with the colonial form of education and books or use its limited resources to generate innovative ways of producing contextually relevant knowledge. …

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