We are Africa

- October 27, 2008

James Ferguson is the chair of the anthropology department at Stanford.

In the first of this year’s Killam Lectures, James Ferguson, chair of the anthropology department at Stanford University in California, spoke to students, staff and community members about issues of labour, personhood and welfare in South Africa. Dr. Ferguson’s talk packed the Scotia Bank Auditorium on Tuesday, Oct. 21.

Although his lecture, "Declarations of Dependence," was specific and technical and perhaps not easily connected to most of our own lives, in the setting of an interview Ferguson emphasized just how much we all are connected to Africa and its importance in our world.

Dr. Ferguson flipped liberal thinking and values of independence and autonomy on their head by describing a situation in South Africa which begs new interpretations of ways to address poverty and underemployment. He situated his discussion in the history of identity construction through dependencies on social systems of hierarchies in the area. He asked us to reposition our thinking on development as freedom and look more closely at histories to construct more complex and creative systems to tackle issues like inequality.

When I asked him to position this study in a larger context he commented that “history is long” and that Africa’s current position says little about what it has meant in world history and what it will mean. To understand how a place so far away is important to our lives, he said, we simply need to look at the current economic crisis, which has shown just how connected we all are. He stated that this dynamic place demonstrates trends and gives us tools that are crucial to our understanding of the world as a whole.

With the theme, "The Future of Africa, Considered," the Killam Lecture Series will continue on Thursday, Nov. 6, when Mamadou Diouf of Columbia University will speak on the topic, "Reconfiguring Public Space and Re-imagining Communities in Contemporary Africa." On Thursday, Nov. 20, Paul Tiyambe Zeleza of the University of Illinois will conclude the series with his talk: "What Happened to the African Renaissance? The Challenges of Development in the 21st Century."

The lectures are a “chance to listen to eminent scholars who work closely on African issues, and whose work has been influential in shaping how these issues are defined,” says Philip Zachernuk, part of the organizing committee for this year’s Killam series.

LINK: Killam Lecture Series


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