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Call For Papers: Africa N’Ko

October 28, 2015

Dakar, 3- 6 December 2015

Africa N'Ko, Africa in the World is a long-term project aiming to create a synergy from among the plurality of reflections on the production of knowledge in human sciences both in and on Africa. To this end, conferences on a range of themes are regularly organised. Following the Dakar conference where debates focussed on colonial libraries, the forthcoming conference will deal with the theme of translation. The notion of translation in social sciences and humanities generally refers to the operation by which something that has been spoken or written in a given language is rendered intelligible in another. We would like to broaden this restrictive accepted meaning to include any form of conversion from one semantic space to another. Since each translation is also a unique interpretation, the question of the role of translation in the production of knowledge is crucial. Indeed, social science and human science concepts have assumed a central function in the constitution of Africa as an object of enquiry, a social representation, and a space of practices. To push the boundaries of this perspective, the operation of translation must be extended beyond linguistics, to include the whole range of social practices. Translation raises the vital questions of alterity, difference and how we define the Other. As a tool of colonialism, it is used to deny the existence of other languages and peoples and to legitimize their inferiorities, thereby constituting one of the bases of western “superiority”. Edward Saïd pointed out the close relationship which links discursive constructions to forms of knowledge, to the definition of truths and to the justification of the domination over colonized peoples.

Examination of the phases of this process of production of knowledge on Africa explores the social and political function of translation in a colonial and postcolonial context. It is indeed legitimate to enquire into the workings of the conversion of languages, cultures, techniques and social existences between social spaces where relations of domination are unequal. In what way, on each side, are loan words treated? This conference calls for a reflection on translation as an actor in imperial and indigenous meaning frameworks. In this sense, it seems important to examine the modalities of the depreciation of African values and practices in the dominant discourse. It is also essential to examine how fragments of modes of existence of colonized peoples have been appropriated and incorporated (overtly, distortedly or secretly) by colonizers.

From the imposition of an equivalence that was unfavourable to African societies, anthropology rapidly emerged as one of the tools of this operation of socialization. The work of the anthropologist consists of recording the imaginaries, myths, beliefs and knowledge of a society and translating them first into another language and then into the academic language of anthropology. This process of knowledge production raises questions on the limits of linguistic proficiency, and also contests the capacity of anthropologists to establish “translation configurations” that satisfy both parties. Certain authors argue that the way in which we speak, write, read and interpret are all involved in the translation process and that it is therefore impossible to achieve an equitable interlingual transfer without consciously or unconsciously distorting the society that has been translated, and without misrepresenting the Other: a connection which is not unaffected by relationships of power and unequal exchanges. It clearly raises the issue of the status of knowledge arising from this central framework:
1) how can social sciences, weighed down as they are by the irreducible yoke of the plurality of expressions, claim to be in any way universal?
2) is translation as a procedure not, behind a false neutrality, an instrument of symbolic domination?
3) in what condition(s) can translations be used without incorporating the ideology they convey?
3) is it possible to envisage a balanced translation that does justice to both parties?
4) in what way does balanced translation transform the conceptual and methodological architecture of our contemporary knowledge on Africa ?
5) Certain analysts underline the fact that translation can contribute to the project of a common humanity whilst avoiding the uniformity of languages and cultures. Can this humanist ethical imperative be applied to the production of knowledge in and on Africa?
It is essential to examine the concrete modalities of the production of knowledge on Africa stemming from colonial heritage and put forward conditions that allow human societies to connect meaning without having to give up their identities.

This last perspective invites us to radically call into question the outcome of the “Scramble for Africa” and the unequal rationality of peoples it brings about. Can translation, which encompasses all the dimensions of social issues, ignore resistant forms of counter-translation, those recalcitrant to the symbolic domination conveyed by current interpretations? It is generally recognized that knowledge produced on African societies is based, on the one hand, on the unequal nature of intellectual and political relations between Africa and the West, and on the other hand, on the recent critical reactions which have paved the way for a reconstruction of established knowledge. How therefore can questioning the method of production of knowledge of Africa contribute to improving production everywhere of knowledge in social and humans sciences? Translation as a levelling operation for social orders requires us to introduce, at each step of the production of the presentation and uses of knowledge on Africa, the question of identity and the respective power of the confronted value systems.
Discussing the modalities of translation, from one social system to another, necessitates not only questioning the authenticity of collected “facts”, but also and especially contesting the dominant standard meaning which overhangs African social realities.

Submission of proposals:
To: Professor Jean-Bernard Ouédraogo

Proposals should be sent to the following addresses by 15th November 2015 at the latest. They should cover half a page and include a title, brief biographical details of the author (and email address), a short outline of the subject of the communication, field and relevant methodological approach.
Scientific committee of the colloquium:
Prof. Remy Bazenguissa-Ganga, sociology, EHESS, Paris
Prof. Mamadou Diawara, anthropology, Goethe University, Frankfurt, Point Sud Bamako
Prof. Mamadou Diouf, history Columbia University
Prof. Frieda Ekoto, literature, University of Michigan)
Prof. Elísio Salvado Macamo, sociology, University of Basel
Prof. Achille Mbembe, history, University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa)
Prof. Jean-Bernard Ouédraogo, sociology, CNRS, Paris
Prof. Ebrima Sall, sociology, CODESRIA, Dakar
Prof. Rawya Tawfik Amer, political science, Cairo University