2013 Annual Conference of the Canadian Association of African Studies (CAAS)


Conference Theme 2013

Africa Communicating: Digital Technologies, Representation, Power

Institute of African Studies, Carleton University, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
1-3 May 2013

The “digital revolution” in Africa is increasingly a phrase found these past few years in the media, academic scholarship, and the “grey literature” produced by non-governmental organizations, donors, and private sector firms. There have been a plethora of accounts pointing to the extensive uptake of various forms of digital technologies amongst varied populations and organizations throughout Africa and the varied roles they are playing in fields as diverse as banking, agriculture, music, and social movements. These more explicitly optimistic stories of African business opportunities, development transformations and innovation, and youth-led advocacy for change have been competing with the more conventional accounts of famine, conflict, disease and poverty associated with the continent.

This growing focus on “Africa communicating” is an important corrective to dominant portrayals of Africans as victims of greed, authoritarianism and exploitation. Nonetheless, this new-found interest needs to be critically analyzed in terms of questions of representation, power and the diverse social and cultural dynamics informing the uses of SMS, internet, videos, and other digital technologies. Moreover, attention needs to also be placed on other conventional and unconventional forms of communicating by Africans, and about Africa, that may be intertwined with or overshadowed by the focus on “the new” technologies. These include films, videos, various genres of literature, television, newspapers, music, and styles of oral accounts, including those found in urban settings like “street stories.”

For the 43rd annual conference of the Canadian Association of African Studies (CAAS), we are calling for papers that explore the theme of Africa communicating, examining the particular usages and representations concerning digital technologies in Africa but also the broader ways in which differently situated Africans communicate through diverse media issues of concern, desire, opportunity, history, knowledge, freedom, and control. Hosted by the Institute of African Studies at Carleton University, some of the questions that emerge from this theme include the following: who are the different actors who are using, distributing, and profiting from these digital technologies? How extensive is the “digital divide” and how is it defined in terms of class, gender, regional and other dimensions? Who are making these claims about the “digital revolution” and what bearing do these assertions actually have in the varied uses of digital technologies by different Africans?

Is “revolution” a proper way to categorize the resulting technological and economic changes to parts of the continent? What are the social histories of these technologies? Are these technologies intersecting with forms of public memories through institutional forms (e.g., museums, archives) or informal means and, if so, with what consequences? What African companies are using or innovating with these technologies? What are the socioeconomic impacts in different sectors of these and other technologies and what are the wider political economies involved in them? Who are the institutional “voices” promoting this talk of the “digital revolution” and what impacts, if any, are these representations having in investments, politics, foreign affairs, and economic activities? How are these technologies intersecting, if at all, with current and historical forms of public culture, religious institutions and practices, cosmologies, philosophies and art?

What is the future of African print media in terms of web content and how is this shaping the types of readership, particularly in light of the digital divide? How do African novels, plays or films shape and represent the changing face of media? Are there other ways of understanding “Africa Communicating” in the second decade of the twenty-first century?

The Canadian Association of African Studies and its journal, the Canadian Journal of African Studies have long served as important platforms for scholarship on Africa. As such, and in addition to the more focused theme elaborated above, the conference welcomes papers, panels and roundtables on a broad range of topics and themes related to the continent, both disciplinary and interdisciplinary, as we seek to enable a broad and informed discussion of “Africa Communicating.” Hence the meeting will be an occasion to share, in both French and English, research on topics such as the state in Africa, civil society, migrations, the slave trades, Africa in the international arena, conflicts within the continent, linguistic practice, religious dynamics, and so on. In keeping with the bilingual nature of CAAS, paper and panel proposals in French are particularly welcomed.

In 2013, the CAAS annual conference will overlap with the annual meeting of the Canadian Association for Latin American and Caribbean Studies (CALACS), which will also be held at Carleton from May 3-5. On Friday May 3rd special events will be organized together by CAAS and CALACS to discuss the current situation in Haiti and Canada’s presence in this country as well as the Haitian presence in Canada. We encourage submissions that promote scholarly collaboration between Africa and Latin America and the Caribbean.