A Reflection on Knowledge Production in Africa: Questions of Epistemology and Research for Social Transformation in Africa

By Lumumba-Kasongo, Tukumbi | Knowledge Cultures, July 2016 | Go to article overview

A Reflection on Knowledge Production in Africa: Questions of Epistemology and Research for Social Transformation in Africa


Lumumba-Kasongo, Tukumbi, Knowledge Cultures


1. Introduction: Objectives and General Issues

My main objectives in this short article are to define various issues related to the conceptualization of what knowledge production entails in contemporary Africa; to raise some epistemological issues related to these definitions and the conceptualization and consumption of this knowledge; and to examine the questions of knowledge production for whom and for what, which touches on the issue of culture and that of the request and struggles for social transformation in Africa.

Knowledge production has actors, consumers and institutions, and the processes of knowledge production are essentially social and political. The producers have their interests, just as the consumers have theirs. Thus, this essay is a generalized critical reflection on knowledge production in Africa within the existing political systems or regimes, with special attention being paid to the question of epistemology and research for social transformation in Africa.

Recently, some economists have argued that the economy of the future will be knowledge based and not commodity based. Knowledge production, as a transformative tool, is becoming borderless, as it is a space in which anyone with an appropriate and relevant education can compete. However, it should be noted that social and intellectual borders are still firm in the existing systems of production of knowledge as far as neoliberal globalization is concerned. Although I disagree with the political assumptions behind this neoliberal thinking, their logic regarding the quality of knowledge and the values of knowledge production can be relevant, especially with my perspectives on the need for a political remapping of the world.

There is no single method, discipline or approach through which knowledge can be produced universally or internationally and used to either transform a given society or to maintain its status quo. My reflections are based on the generalized claims and assumptions of social sciences about knowledge and research. All the disciplines of social sciences, for instance, suffer from the struggles of claiming to be scientific in the political location of their inquiries.

I believe that knowledge production matters in Africans' efforts and the states' policies toward development. We cannot transform what we do not know. It is through socialization, education and research that we can acquire knowledge. What makes such knowledge socially relevant?

In the light of the current objective African conditions, the failures of neoliberal economics and particular conditions of higher education systems in Africa, the nature of university-based kinds of knowledge production and their relevance are intellectually and socially challenged. African higher education in the twenty-first century, despite some curriculum changes, is still characterized by a prevalent organization and production of knowledge deriving from the European colonial legacy and its unfolding of new developments that have been dominated by the information and communication technologies (Assie-Lumumba, 2004).

In the center of knowledge production and its circulation in Africa are the following critical questions: How does society learn things? What does it learn them? Moreover, what does it do with the learned information? An attempt to deal dialectically with these questions leads us to the issue of the transformation of society from the dynamics of research and the power of knowledge.

My claims and arguments are contextualized by the imperatives of contemporary African politics, which are synthesized in the policies and practices of colonial Africa, those of post-colonial Africa, of neoliberal globalism, and the goals of the social struggles that emerged out of them.

Human society produces and reproduces itself biologically and socially through its complex knowledge systems. These systems, whether they are formal, informal or non-conforming, embody the propositions of the society of the future, the values of the society of the past and the objectivity of the present. …

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