"Africa is, indeed, coming into fashion." - Horace Walpole (1774)


report from the ASA

I spent the weekend in New Orleans at the annual meeting of the African Studies Association. Some political scientists skip ASA, but I really enjoy it. It's a chance to hear research not only in my field, but also from other disciplines like history and anthropology from which I don't normally get to keep up with all the latest research. It's also nice to have people from other disciplines in the audience when you're presenting a paper; we got great feedback and suggestions on the pirate paper precisely because of this factor.

Given the huge turnout at Saturday's 7am meeting of the African Politics Conference Group, I'm pretty sure I'm not the only one who sees benefits from involvement in the ASA. Here are a few highlights of research that I heard, as well as some other news:
  • Cyril Obi of the Nordic Africa Institute gave a wonderful (and hilarious) paper on weak democratic consolidation in West Africa. He argued that what looks like backsliding to non-democratic behavior is actually just an indication that most West African states never truly consolidated their democracies. My favorite quote was to the effect that expecting democracy from above in West Africa is akin to expecting "wolves [to give] birth to lambs." I can't wait for the publication of this one.
  • UC Berkeley grad student Dan Fahy gave a great paper on Uganda's role in the eastern Congo since 2003. There's been so much work on what Uganda did in Ituri, etc. during the war, but very little on recent developments, so this is much-welcomed research.
  • UT Austin professor Alan Kuperman presented a provocative paper on Rwanda in which he contended that the 1994 genocide was essentially a counterinsurgency move in response to the perceived presence of a 5th column of disloyal Tutsis in the country. It's part of a larger project that seeks to explain why regimes do or do not attack civilians during civil war. Keep an eye out for this one.
  • Grad students, the APCG voted to establish a graduate student paper prize of $100. One will be awarded annually to the best paper on African politics presented at the ASA, ISA, or APSA. Be sure to nominate the best papers you hear on the topic!
  • In non-ASA news, a grad school colleague forwarded a late-season job announcement my way last week. If you're on the job market as an Africanist political scientist and would be interested in teaching at a liberal arts college on the east coast, shoot me an email and I'll forward you the details.
I also enjoyed meeting a few Texas in Africa readers at the conference. Some of us are talking about having a blogger/blog reader meetup at the ISA in February. Email me if you're interested in participating, and I'll post details as we get closer to the time.


Blogger Naunihal said...

Whenever I've gone, I've been frustrated by the quality of the panels. I tried to go to panels based on the topic, but all too often ended up listening to somebody read out a paper they had written the night before, a stray assemblage of thoughts not a real argument. And I've been to panels where half the presenters never bothered to show up for their own panel (I saw one later, this scholar was there, but wanted to do something else in town rather than present).

The non-political science work was better, but not very accessible.

Monday, November 23, 2009 10:12:00 AM

Blogger texasinafrica said...

Yeah, I think the issue of quality is still there, but I've noticed that overall quality of participants gotten much stronger in recent years. That may or may not be causally related to the decline in attendance.

Monday, November 23, 2009 11:41:00 AM

Anonymous Ranil Dissanayake said...

on the topic of democratic consolidation in Africa (though not West), my favourite (wrong word, really) story is about the decolonisation of the then Belgian Congo.

Congo had no democratic or representational structures at all, and no governmental training before the first elections were held in 1960. These were contested by more than 100 parties, of which some of the key platforms were return of *all* taxes, and resurrection of the dead.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009 12:00:00 AM

Blogger Kim Dionne said...

as a grad student, i find the exorbitant up-front fees when proposing a submission are an incredible barrier to entry (especially after having gone and realizing i'm the only one or two of five that show up for my panel). in a year when departments are cutting back funding -- grad students at my university get $300 for one conference this year -- i just couldn't come out of pocket for a conference with poor attendance and questionable quality.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009 8:41:00 AM

Blogger texasinafrica said...

Kim, I can completely sympathize, especially since I was still a grad student at the time of submission of this paper this time around. My understanding is that the reason the fees are so high has to do with the fact that ASA was $100,000 in debt five years ago. Now that ASA is back in the black, I'd certainly like to start pushing for lower fees as it's clearly cost prohibitive for lots of graduate students.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009 10:48:00 AM


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