ASAUK 2018 Conference at the University of Birmingham

24 Dec 2018 - 13:30
Caption: Paulo Fernando de Moraes Farias and Karin Barber receiving the Distinguished Africanist Awards for 2017 and 2018 (photo courtesy of the ASAUK)


By Susana Molins Lliteras

In mid-September, I attended the African Studies Association of the UK (ASAUK) 27th biennial conference, held at the University of Birmingham. This massive international conference, with over 800 delegates and 15 exhibitors, contributing to 40 streams and 166 panels, 16 roundtables, and seven book launches, was the Association's largest and most diverse conference yet. Very revealing in my mind was the domination—still—of 'developmental' and 'anthropological' disciplines within African Studies, exemplified by the new books on offer for sale and the majority of panel themes at the conference.

At this type of event, there is always a bit of a who is who, academic-name dropping politics and the ASAUK was no different.  Interestingly, scholars based at South African universities played a prominent role in this regard, with Grace Musila giving the conference keynote address entitled "Makhumalo's Spaza Shop|Lena Moi's Dance" and Francis Nyamnjoh receiving the Fage and Oliver Prize for the best monograph in African Studies published or distributed in the UK for his #RhodesMustFall: Nibbling at Resilient Colonialism in South Africa.  Deservingly in my view, two of the University of Birmingham's African Studies stalwarts, Paulo Fernando de Moraes Farias and Karin Barber, were awarded the Distinguished Africanist Awards for 2017 and 2018.

I was part of a stream entitled "Muslim Written Intellectual Tradition in Africa," consisting of seven panels and seventeen papers, which made attending this conference particularly worthwhile. I was able to reconnect with old colleagues, keeping abreast with their latest research and meet some new up-and-coming researchers working with African manuscripts in innovative ways. Particularly encouraging was seeing the predominance of a history of the book approach to the manuscripts, as opposed to a content-only centred methodology which predominated our field in the last decades. Nevertheless, the refusal of a UK visa for a number of our African colleagues was an apt reminder of the multiple manifestations of the imbalance of power between scholars and institutions from the Global North and South, particularly exacerbated as this was, after all, an African Studies conference.