Decolonising knowledge production on Africa: why it’s still necessary and what can be done

by Gordon Crawford, Zainab Mai-Bornu and Karl Landström

01 Apr 2021
Journal of the British Academy
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Number of pages
26 (pp. 21-46)

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Abstract: Contemporary debates on decolonising knowledge production, inclusive of research on Africa, are crucial and challenge researchers to reflect on the legacies of colonial power relations that continue to permeate the production of knowledge about the continent, its peoples, and societies. Yet these are not new debates. Sixty years ago, Ghana’s first president and pan-Africanist leader, Dr Kwame Nkrumah, highlighted the importance of Africa-centred knowledge. Similarly, in the 1980s, Claude Ake advocated for endogenous knowledge production on Africa. But progress has been slow at best, indicated by the enduring predominance of non-African writers on African issues within leading scholarly journals. Thus, we examine why decolonisation of knowledge production remains so necessary and what can be done within the context of scholarly research in the humanities and social sciences. These questions are addressed at two levels, one more practical and one more reflective . At both levels, issues of power inequalities and injustice are critical. At the practical level, the asymmetrical power relations between scholars in the Global North and South are highlighted. At a deeper level, the critiques of contemporary African authors are outlined, all contesting the ongoing coloniality and epistemic injustices that affect knowledge production on Africa, and calling for a more fundamental reorientation of ontological, epistemological, and methodological approaches in order to decolonise knowledge production.

Keywords: Decolonisation, knowledge production, Nkrumah, power asymmetries, epistemic injustice.

Article posted to Journal of the British Academy, volume 9, supplementary issue 1 (Repositioning of Africa in Knowledge Production: Shaking off Historical Stigmas).

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