Tuesday, 6 January 2009

The Revisiting Modernization Conference

To be held from 27th - 31st July 2009 at
University of Ghana, Legon

(*N.B.: The deadline for the submission of abstracts has been extended until
January 15th, 2009)

Conference Theme

Revisiting Modernization is an interdisciplinary array of activities that features an academic conference, art exhibition, creative writing competition, film screenings, and two keynote addresses to be held at the University of Ghana, Legon, from 27th - 31st July 2009. These activities, a collaboration between the Institute of African Studies at the University of Ghana, Legon and the African Studies Multi-Campus Research Group at the University of California, inaugurate an inclusive approach to thinking about the resonance of modernization in relation to the contemporary lexicon of globalization and the shifting parameters of development. This event is conceived as a forum with pre-circulated papers and contributions from a wide range of academics, policymakers, and artists from the African continent, North America, Europe, and beyond.

We invite academic interventions that explore the significance of modernization on the African continent from critically informed perspectives in the humanities and social sciences that include historical, socio-anthropological, literary, art historical, and cultural/media studies approaches. We seek to organize a collective reflection on the nature of modernization as it has been inflected and transformed since the era of African independence. In addition to evoking the role of transnational developments across the South as an important site of inquiry, we seek to critically examine points of departure for and appropriations of modernization. As a series of techniques typically associated with Western technological expertise and historical experience, we would like to interrogate new ways of imagining modernization as a critique of ethnocentric developmentalism. Modernization as a series of discourses and desires is the overarching theme for the conference in order to specify questions of policy, culture and development and its location in African Studies.

Current interactions on the African continent with the “Asian Miracle,” along with the Brazilian and Indian, among other modernities, and the vitality of an emerging decentered world economy—once relegated to the anonymity of the Third World—must be grounded in an examination of modernization, and the will towards a new political and social future. This emerging future not only engages with the past, through the evocation of ancestors and rites of passage, such as funerals, but also provides a discontinuous view of historical and social transformations. It is the reexamination of this developmental notion of modernization into a new future that we seek to open up through the activities organized around this conference.

This conference will be the first of three conferences to be held over a five-year period on the African continent (Ghana 2009, Senegal 2011, South Africa 2013) that include academic and public events, initiated by the African Studies Multi-Campus Research Group at the University of California.

Thematic Areas

The academic papers presented at the Revisiting Modernization conference will be organized around five thematic areas:

1. Performativitiy and Modernization (2 panels)

This area addresses the relationship between performance and “performativity” as related to staging post-independence cultural traditions. Cultural traditions, including national theater, dance, musical ensembles, rites of passage, also refer to institutions and sites of commemoration where gender discourses and practices, among other social values, are asserted, maintained, and controlled. As integral to African state culture formations, the nature of performance culture and institutions in relation to the shifting terms of authenticity may serve to ground this discussion. A related question may focus on the construction of African Studies programs on the African continent (as opposed to African Studies abroad) and the stakes for knowledge of self and other.

2. Emerging Circuits of African Art Production and Exhibition (2 panels)

In relation to an exhibition featuring contemporary Ghanaian artists that illustrate techniques of training artists in Ghana, this thematic area addresses the circuits of production and distribution for African art. We solicit contributions that examine contemporary Ghanaian and other African art, and address the crucial relationship between the staging of exhibitions abroad and its relationship to local forms of production and knowledge on the African continent or in the diaspora. The sources and location of these artworks should be addressed as well as their relationship to the international art market.

3. Cultures of Modernization and Globalization (2 panels)

To what extent did the early independence discourse of modernization predict many of the networks of globalization present today? How has the “Asian Miracle,” along with the Brazilian and Indian, among other heralded sites of economic expansion, shifted understandings of modernity and created new practices of consumption? Is this indicative of an emerging modernity no longer simply hitched to the economic and cultural authority of the West? In order to examine the shifting tides of modernity in relation to modernization, this thematic area will address the practices and politics of consumption as well as the function of literary works among other vernacular sources, in order to examine how the effects of modernization and globalization are reflected in new modes of storytelling.

4. New Histories of African Film and Media (2 panels)
To what extent has an emerging realm of audiovisual media on the African continent functioned as a form of self-representation in specific postcolonial African contexts? The French and British colonial legacies of media aesthetics, as well as a developmental paradigm, have been swept aside by local forms of media that include video-films from Nigeria and Ghana, cinema from Algeria, Burkina Faso, Morocco, Senegal, South Africa, and Tunisia, but also local television, radio, the Internet, and cell phone technology. A reconsideration of film and media on the continent is also a means by which to ask how the project of modernization has been privatized and globalized through diasporic communities linked via technology, and what are the new terms for national identity via these emerging narratives.

5. Power, Infrastructure, and Modernization: Historical Approaches and Contemporary Debates (2 panels)
Since the 1950s, African governments, assisted by foreign donors and experts, have invested vast resources into large-scale development projects. They included hydro-electric dams, deep-sea harbors, “model” cities, and more recently oil pipelines. Their promoters, engaging with a modernization discourse, situated them at the center of nation-building. They triggered numerous expectations: powering modern amenities and factories, creating infrastructures and urban spaces, reshaping citizens, and forging national identities. Such projects were to provide the material base and ideological superstructure to achieve the aims of development, modernity, and nationhood. Lately, the role of oil exploration, and the stakes of energy politics have become a source of debate. This thematic area asks participants to explore the histories, politics, meanings, symbolic languages, and legacies of such large-scale development projects in relation to current energy politics.

Call for Papers

We invite submissions of a 500-word abstract that explores the conference theme Revisiting Modernization, in relation to one of the sub-themes. Please submit your abstract and a 50-word biographical statement as an MSWord attachment via email by 15 January 2009 to: africanstudiesmrg@ihc.ucsb.edu

Abstracts and biographical statements may also be mailed to:
UCSB/Humanities Center
African Studies MRG
Attention: Conference Proposals
6046 HSSB
Santa Barbara, California 93106-4010

Accommodation and Travel

Accommodations, meals and local transportation will be provided for all conference participants for the duration of the conference in Ghana. Travel stipends to Accra for conference participants will be available subject to funding. Further information about the availability of travel stipends and flight reservations will be provided by March 15, 2009.

Conference Conveners
Peter J. Bloom, UC-Santa Barbara
Takyiwaa Manuh, Institute of African Studies, University of Ghana, Legon
Stephan F. Miescher, UC-Santa Barbara

For further inquires, please contact:

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