APC March 2018 Research Development Workshop
The APC’s first research development workshop of 2018 took place from 26 to 28 March at the Wild Fig in Mowbray, Cape Town. The three-day workshop, offering 45 minutes of intensive discussion of pre-circulated papers that all the participants read in advance, once again proved to be a productive format for sustained trans-disciplinary engagement and research support, as does the commitment to working and thinking across the longest possible span of time. The deliberate attempt to have a mix—of experienced researchers and various disciplinary experts, as well as practitioners, alongside the fresh emergent thinking of novice researchers; of local, regional and international scholars; APC regulars and special guests— seems key to sustaining a spirit of open enquiry.
A unifying theme of Day 1 was centred around publicness, in institutions—such as universities and museums—as well as in political praxis. Camalita Naicker’s and Rehana Odendaal’s papers raised questions about the relationships of space and landscape to publicness, while Jae Maingard’s and Emma Sandon’s presentation on the current crisis of universities in the UK offered a global counterpoint to our previous discussions of the recent challenges to universities in South Africa.
One thread of discussion that emerged early on and developed through the workshop was around text, context, con-text and paratext, and linked to that the concept of circulation, whether of texts of various kinds, or of ideas in motion taking different textual forms. This issue was raised first in the paper by Leslie Witz, who drew the APC’s attention to John Mowatt’s work (see, for example, his Text: the Genealogy of an Antidisciplinary Object, 1992, which looks at text as an object whose nature is contested among various disciplines, and which resists accommodation of the ‘ossifying’ agendas and needs of the established disciplines). The point was developed further in Day 2 in relation to Maingard’s paper with the question posed by Litheko Modisane as to whether the movie magazines on which her paper focuses could be conceptualised as paratexts (following Jean Gennet). Taken together, the two points raised the matter of how something can be a primary event in one context and a secondary one in another context, or when subject to different forms of framing. Primary/secondary, original/derivative/representation all emerge from these kinds of discussions as statuses conferred, not given, while linked ideas of circulation and publicness (following Michael Warner) offer a critical counterpoint to ideas of reception and audience.
Questions of the notion of curation as an act of taking ‘care’ but also of exercising power and the effects of the digital format—both augmenting the gap between object and corporeality but also granting more access—were raised in discussions around Tracey Randle’s and Erica de Greef’s papers and echoed in the presentation on Day 3 of the APC’s Five Hundred Year Archive project, as a new archival intervention and exemplar, as well as in Katie Garrun’s study of its classificatory structures.
Day 2’s focus on visuality considered questions of the roles of ‘ephemeral traces’ of images—or their absence in the case of Mandela’s images in Modisane’s paper—and the framing of ‘the scene’ particularly in Jo-Anne Duggan’s paper, and relation to light in Nessa Leibhammer’s essay. The role of ‘archival disrememberance’ arose during the discussion on the state of the SABC’s archive in Thokozani Mhlambi’s paper, another thread linking a number of papers.
Day 2 ended with papers by Ayanda Mahlaba on women narrators of history and that of Nashilongweshipwe Mushaandja on the Namibian vernacular concept of oudano that is central in thinking about a broad spectrum of performance in contexts of art, activism and archivism. Their papers drew attention to and problematized vernacular historiographies and concepts, in a manner finally captured in Mushaandja’s questions posed for ongoing consideration as to what a vernacular concept is, and what an African archive is.
Day 3’s focus shifted to the longer past, with a number of more archeologically, and historically-centred papers. The discussion on Himal Ramji and John Wright’s papers set the scene, asking what is at stake when we attempt to ‘produce the pre-colonial,’ and raising the question of ‘temporalities:’ of the present moment and of the ‘then’ viewing ‘the pre-colonial’ not simply as a time. While John Wright explored the intellectual legacies of aspects of South African archaeology, Rachel King examined how early ethnologists imagined archaeology and landscape as evidentiary sources, and what the consequences of this have been for southern African studies
A theme of transactional value was productively threaded through widely divergent papers, ranging from Gerald Machona’s artist’s intervention in a contemporary lobola process in Day 2, to Abigail Moffett’s tracking of cowrie exchanges from the 7th century AD, and Henry Fagan’s focus on marriage transactions in the nineteenth-century KwaZulu-Natal region, illustrating the APC’s unusual capacity in supporting insights drawing on a long view of history.
Lebogang Mokwena’s and Susana Molins Lliteras’ papers on the first and last days raised questions on how aspects of our work can re-orient and challenge established conventions in global history. Offering a preliminary consideration of the international and geo-political dimensions of public museum exhibitions, Mokwena’s paper, on an isishweshwe exhibition, explored the representation - or not - of the geographic and political boundaries between South Africa and its regional neighbours and illustrated the consequences of treating South Africa as an entryway for Africa from a global North perspective.
Mokwena’s comments on Molins Lliteras’ paper in turn emphasise how the biography of the Fondo Kati re-orients our focus away from (even as it also complements) the trans-Atlantic scholarly focus of the 14th - 16th century Spanish (and Portuguese) conquest of Latin America, and the key role of the ‘epistemicide’ of Jews and Muslims in the Iberian Peninsula about which Ramón Grosfoguel speaks as the precursor to the epistemicide of local religions in Latin America. This same process of Semitic ejection from Europe represents the background to the Fondo Kati archive which re-centres the place of Africa through the trans-Saharan history of the archive. Mokwena highlights how casting the story of the Fondo Kati as an event / outcome located on or implicated in the spectrum of European and global historical processes that we have come to associate with the rise of modernity and of the modern (capitalist) world, rather than in the binary terms of Islamic and Western traditions, might not also offer interesting lines of inquiry that transcend the oppositions / binaries that we have come to accept.
The second research development workshop of 2018 will take place between the 31st of October and the 2nd of November 2018.