P 07

Concepts at Work

Panel abstract
Concepts and their corresponding terminology shape the relationship between researchers and their objects of investigation; at the same time they are constitutive of how we perceive of and know the world, how we connect to the world and configure boundaries. Yet the criteria and theoretical backgrounds of concept building have become increasingly contested. Paradigms of universal reason and its historical progress, of religious and metaphysical frameworks of finality, and also of political and economic ideologies have undergone crises of legitimation. Recently also science’s cogency appears to falter. Confronted with challenges to science and its forms of substantiation, we need to ask ourselves as academics how to approach this development: from which positionality and with recourse to which terms is it possible to analyse the loss of scientific persuasiveness when the methods of doing so are themselves subject to debate? Furthermore, how does the differentiating entanglement of conceptualizations of Africa and science contribute to and challenge these debates? Situated in global entanglements, the conceptual interventions from decidedly non-European perspectives (such as Postcolonial Studies, Theory from the South) are interwoven with requirements of theoretical frameworks to address the complexity of issues that span the globe. The turn to strictly empirical studies that subvert grand narratives coincides with enacted life designs that are oriented at the global. How are concepts related to the world and how do they form our understanding of it? How do scientific concepts create connections and configure boundaries within an African context? How do concepts orient our perception of reality and structure our practices? How are concepts malleable through time and space? If science fundamentally relies on concept making as its main instrument of cognizance, on what is such scientific conceptualization based and how does that feed back into conceptualizations of science and the world? Which power do concepts unfold in which contexts, in the name of which interest, and for whom?

Time: Friday, 29/06/2018, 4.30 - 6.30 pm
Venue: Seminargebäude, S 202

Rose Marie Beck (Leipzig University)
Manuela Kirberg (University of Magdeburg)
Hanna Nieber (Free University of Berlin/ University of Utrecht, Netherlands)

Elísio Macamo (University of Basel, Switzerland)
Jana Tiborra (University of Gießen)
Adams Osman (University of Cape Coast, Ghana)
Sisay Megersa (University of Bielefeld)

Paper abstracts

Elísio Macamo
When Concepts Rebel

This presentation explores the dynamic ontology of concepts by discussing two key issues arising thereof. The first refers to the fact that concepts are historically localized products which claim to describe and ground things which have always been there. The second deals with the fascinating fact that concepts imply a continuity that makes us forget that they are historically contingent. I want to take up these issues and connect them with a discussion of the relationship between African studies and the disciplines. I hope to be able to show that this relationship is often undermined by the resistance offered by concepts on account of the two aforementioned issues.

Jana Tiborra
Transforming Identities in Contemporary Photography

The ongoing and controversial debate of cultural identity is reflected in my PhD project ‘The imagery of the third space’ which analyses the representation, formation, and transformation of ‘African identities’ in contemporary photography from Africa and the African diaspora. The visual representation of identity thereby combines cognitive, sensuous, and affective modes of conceptualizing knowledge. However, photographic images not only represent, but they actively create the object studied. Thus, images are engaged in the production of concepts and knowledge. Moreover, the openness and productivity of artistic photography visualize the ambiguity and fluidity of concepts. A comparative approach to photography from Africa and the African diaspora unfolds connections between different regions of the world. Different artistic positions approach multiple and diverse identity conceptions and thus they prevent the construction of a homogeneous ‘image’ of Africa. Contemporary photographers often subvert the exotic and fixed identity constructed in colonial photography. They reveal knowledge systems and power relations underlying photographic representations. Finally, the complex paths of the circulation of images and the encounter between photography from Africa and the ‘Western gaze’ pose further questions of connectivity and interrelatedness. Thus, it will be shown how contemporary photography dealing with the concept ‘identity’ constructs and transforms networks of African connections.

Adams Osman
How Did Researchers and Traditional Priests Arrive at the Same Prediction? The Case of June 2015 Flood and Fire Disaster in Accra

Science has always argued for its objectivity in knowing and studying reality. Positivism claims a single measurable reality while interpretivists have allowed for the subjectivity of reality. These two philosophical backgrounds are the backbone of science as they promote verifiability, validity, reliability, and duplication of results by other scientists. The question is ‘can the traditional priest validate and duplicate the results of science while untrained in the academic dispensation of the sciences?’ Can scientists, as well, validate claims of traditional priests; is logic they are also trained in the metaphysical realms claimed by traditional priests. Just as science can falsify or arrive at wrong results, so can the information by traditional priests be wrong. This study takes a look at how traditional priests made similar claims as researchers about the eminent catastrophic event in the Accra Metropolis of Ghana in 2015. It also considers how they came to their conclusions and what makes the claims of science more valid than that of the traditional priests? Two priests (Wulomo) of Ga Mashie in Accra and two researchers: a flood expert from the National Disaster Management Organization and an environmentalist were interviewed for the study. Both factions believe by learning and constant studying, one can make better predictions. However, where knowledge is limited, science subscribes to more research while the traditionalists suggest consulting the gods. This study concludes that scientists are not better than traditional priests in knowing the reality: it is a matter of one's willingness to avail himself for learning others’ methods.

Sisay Megersa Dirirsa
Decentering a Nation: From a Vantage Point of the Oromo Polity

Although the concept of nation is one of those highly contested terrains within the academia of the humanities and the social sciences, there still exists some kind of intellectual dogmatism in terms of the primordial existence of a nation. Such dogmatic intellectual tradition is grounded on the assumption that the phenomenon what we call today as a nation is a mere historical legacy of modern Europe since the 18th century. This paper aspires to unearth a subtle ontological core that has been used as a ground, while intellectually conceptualizing a nation as a Eurocentric concept. As a negation to such centric intellectual traditions in the field of nation and nationalism, the paper will render a historical overview to the Oromo polity – geographically being located in Eastern Africa, during the sixteenth century. In doing so, the essay saliently challenges the understanding of a nation as cohesive collective political entity coming into being since the eighteenth century on. Using Reinhart Koselleck’s Begriffsgeschichte, the concept of a nation will be appraised from diachronic as well as synchronic perspectives. Before concluding the overall activity, a prototype text from the modernist intellectual tradition in the field of nation and nationalism will be critically read, thus illustrating how much some particular socio-historical structures, i.e. a European kind, have ontologically been engaged in hegemonic operation while representing a nation qua Eurocentric concept.