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TitleThe knowledge commons, pan-Africanism, and epistemic inequality: a study of CODESRIA
AuthorHoffmann, Nimi
Format347 leaves
AbstractThis study is about the Council for the Development of Social Science Research in Africa (CODESRIA). Conceived in 1964 and formalised in 1973, CODESRIA is the longest-standing pan-African intellectual organisation on the continent. It was established with the primary objective of fostering greater collaboration between African scholars, and has acquired a reputation for challenging the marginalisation and fragmentation of African scholarship. However, there has been no systematic account of this important organisation. This study aims to cast light on this organisation and its intellectual contributions in the post-independence period. It examines CODESRIA as a knowledge commons - a community of scholars that creates, manages and shares intellectual goods outside of the state and the market. It asks: what factors have shaped CODESRIA as a pan-African knowledge commons in the context of epistemic inequality? As a way of answering this question, it examines three key debates: the different meanings of pan-Africanism in CODESRIA, CODESRIA’s defence of the academic project during structural adjustment, and African feminists’ struggles to change CODESRIA. These debates exemplify the ways in which different generations of African scholars in the post - independence period have sought to make sense of and respond to the problems of inequality - both outside of CODESRIA and within CODESRIA. This thesis approaches CODESRIA as a case study. It combines a document analysis with semi-structured interviews to construct and critique key intellectuals" understandings of the organisational design and practices of CODESRIA, the nature of its community and intellectual work. It supplements this with a descriptive analysis of CODESRIA’s bibliometric and administrative data. The study finds that CODESRIA has forged a distinctive form of pan-Africanism that offers a non-governmental and intellectual alternative to state-centric and bureaucratic forms of pan-Africanism. As a powerful counter-narrative to prevailing ideas of African intellectual inferiority, pan-Africanism has been an important motivational source for establishing and cohering CODESRIA’s community. Although its pan-African organisational form has been complicated by the enduring influence of colonial frameworks and limited by the the material and institutional weaknesses of African universities, it has nevertheless acted as a mode of collective enquiry for troubling and expanding the colonial conception of Africa. This study further finds that structural adjustment fundamentally reshaped the intellectual and material underpinnings of CODESRIA with complex and ambiguous results. In the short term, CODESRIA’s analysis of structural adjustment led to considerable intellectual and organisational innovation so that it grew in size and influence. In the long-run, however, structural adjustment eroded the public universities upon which CODESRIA relied. This eroded the mechanisms to maintain its intellectual vigour and democratic character, and increased CODESRIA’s dependency on donors. The study also finds that the struggles of feminist scholars to change unequal gender norms in CODESRIA have been a source of significant intellectual and organisational renewal. Contestations over gender inequality within CODESRIA have given rise to a distinctive form of African feminism, which emphasises the historicity of gender relations in ways that reject essentialist and teleological accounts of African societies. Feminist struggles have also given rise to new standards of scholastic excellence that mark a meaningful departure from the skewed standards introduced under colonial rule. Nevertheless, the persistent minoritisation of female scholars in CODESRIA has significantly limited their capacity to effect institutional change, such that the ghettoization of feminist scholarship and the hollowing out of feminist discourses on gender remains a constant threat. The central argument of this study is that inequality can motivate marginalised members to engage in the collective action required to create and reshape knowledge commons, but it can also constrain their collective action and threaten the long-term sustainability of the commons. The collective agency of marginalised individuals is therefore central to the flourishing of knowledge commons. Second, knowledge commons are intimately dependent on public goods, such as universities. Public goods are plausibly the source, and therefore the limit, of knowledge commons’ capacity to flourish over the long-term. As a consequence, it is likely that knowledge commons are complements to public goods provision, rather than substitutes. Rethinking the knowledge commons in terms of the predicaments of African intellectual communities, I contend, provides new ways of understanding the possibilities, constraints and contradictions of knowledge commons in an unequal world. This study contributes to the empirical literature on African intellectual communities. In particular, it provides critical knowledge on a scholarly community that has not only endured, but has managed to thrive in a context of profound economic and political instability. This provides an indication of the institutions, practices, and intellectual resources that are required to ensure that African knowledge systems flourish over the long-term. This study also makes a theoretical contribution to the literature on knowledge commons, which are largely theorised using examples from the global North. It shows how reconceptualising knowledge commons in terms of inequality opens up new lines of empirical investigation. Building on existing commons research, it develops a methodological framework for comparative research on southern knowledge commons, which may also be of use for investigating commons in general.
PublisherRhodes University
PublisherFaculty of Humanities, Institute of Social and Economic Research