Conference Report by Dr Thokozani Mhlambi

4 Oct 2019 - 08:00
Mhlambi during his Praxis Presentation on Loudspeaker Broadcasting in South Africa in the 1940s. Photo courtesy of Thokozani Mhlambi.


“Performance, Politics, Power” was the theme for the 2019 Annual Meeting of the Cultural Studies Association. This took place at Tulane University in New Orleans (USA), from the 30th of May until the 1st of June 2019.

The theme was quite relevant given the location of this year’s conference, in New Orleans (Louisiana)—the home of jazz, marching bands and, hybrid spiritualisms. 

The experience of the conference could not be separated from the experience of the city, alive with activity throughout the day. The sounds on the streets often interlocked, sometimes they competed as they echoed through old buildings of the French Quarter, and drowned-out as one moved across railway lines towards the Ninth Ward and other districts. 

The range of papers was an indication of vastness of the field of cultural studies today; papers considering the making of a queer archive in Africa (see Z’etoile Imma’s presentation), some papers were about Instagram, others about AirBnB and the homesharing movement. There was a panel considering The Post-Truth condition. There was an important seminar on ‘Cultural Studies as Pedagogical Project,’ which included seasoned scholars like Larry Grossberg (of UNC-Chapel Hill), Toby Miller (of UC-Riverside) and was chaired by Moroccan-born scholar Jaafar Aksikas (Columbia College Chicago).

The conference organizers also recognized that “Conferences themselves are places of performance. The packed nature of programs put together by professional associations like this one militates against most people having more than a few snatched minutes to make their points, and often in front of small crowds.” Indeed this idea was taken further by allowing contributors to use a “Praxis” format to give their presentations. It served as an invitation to conceive and experiment with alternative methods of conference performance.

I myself used this invitation as an opportunity to test my work on ‘Loudspeaker broadcasting to African audiences in the 1940s South Africa’—by using sound elements like radio-static, archival clips and performance speech in the idiom of izibongo, as part of my presentation. From my research which enabled the investigation into early broadcasting cultures in South Africa, I found that state authorities often used African performance traditions (such as izibongo, ingoma, to mention a few) in order to ignite interest in the broadcast medium, and to attract African audiences to the broadcasts they made. I therefore used the ‘Praxis’ panel to demonstrate this, I also incorporated verbal discussion of my methodology and research framework with my audience.