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AFRI A-731 Seminar on Contemporary Africa

Spring 2017
Topic: African Mobilities and Expressive Culture
Associate Professor Daniel Reed, Department of Folklore and Ethnomusicology

Mobility is a concept frequently at play in scholarly discussions of African expressive culture today. In this seminar, we will focus on various types of mobility, including movements of people such as immigrants and refugees, transnational networks formed through activities in the marketplace of African artistic practices, and the creative processes of artists themselves, which evince engagement with various kinds of discursive mobility.

In this seminar, our primary focus will be immigrant expressive cultural practice. In the past quarter century, economic inequities and related factors have led to an exponential increase in immigration of Africans to locations across the world, from China to Ukraine to the USA. Many transnationally mobile Africans use expressive cultural practices as resources for economic betterment, which can lead to yet further voluntary mobility and economic emancipation. In other cases, displaced Africans, having left their home communities, find themselves increasingly immobile, trapped in refugee camps or limiting situations of poverty in and outside the continent. Through the study of music, dance, literature, film, and other expressive cultural forms, what can we learn about the lives of contemporary African immigrants and other transnationally mobile African peoples? Transportable, adaptable and fluid, the arts serve as a means for Africans on the continent and in the diaspora to negotiate new subjectivities and forms of community; to express emotion, reflect on the past and comment on the present; and to assert agency in the face of sometimes great hardship. As such, the arts can serve as effective means to understand African immigrant experience in the world today.

This seminar will include readings and guest lecturers from both inside and outside IU and from various disciplinary backgrounds, such as ethnomusicology, history, sociology, anthropology, and comparative literature. All students must attend all seminars and guest lectures; written requirements vary according to whether the class is taken for one, two or thee credit hours, as follows:

  • One credit hour: Write a 100-150 word synopsis of each reading.
  • Two credit hours: In addition to the reading synopses, write a 600-800 word book review on any two of the assigned readings. Each should include a brief description and a more lengthy analytical assessment of the work—its strength and weaknesses, the importance of the topic it engages, and the publication’s value as a thorough and insightful contribution to African Studies.
  • Three credit hours: In addition to the assignments for 1 and 2 credits, write a research paper on a topic of your choice, applying the information, insights, and intellectual perspectives presented in one or several of the assigned readings. Your paper should be 12-15 pages in length.

*View previous A731 Seminar topics here.