Roundtable V

The affective turn and self-reflexivity in African historiography

Monday, 21 March 2016, 16:00-17:30

Convenor: Elena Vezzadini (IMAF Paris)

Panelists: Silvia Bruzzi (IMAF Paris), Joshua Doble (University of Leeds)

In the historiography of modern Africa, emotions and affects have rarely been studied as constitutive elements of social and political processes. Africanist historiography has been less receptive than other historiographies to emotions in history, perhaps to counter the first depictions of “the African man” as an irrationally emotional being. This panel aims at bringing together a group of historians, all working on various socio-political phenomena in the Horn of Africa, Madagascar, Mali, Sudan, but also all engaged with the question of how the affective world of individuals and communities has impacted these processes. Recovering the history of affects means adding a fundamental dimension in the everyday lives of people. Affects continually orientate our decisions, be them the choice of a political party, a type of education, or an economic investment. Affects weave in the imaginaries of people when it comes to representations of power: numbers of testimonies in our works talk about their love-hate relations towards the nation; or again, the way in which emotions are enmeshed in representations of subordinates, foreigners, and migrants. However, including affects into the picture raises a host of methodological and theoretical questions: how do we define affects? How do we grasp them in the sources? How does the expression of sentiments match practices? And, finally, how may something as ineffable as affects lead us to rethink historical processes? There is an additional dimension to the study of emotion that this roundtable wants to address: taking emotions seriously forces the historian to venture in the domain of self-reflexivity, something that is consistently ignored in our discipline, in sharp contrast to anthropology. Contrary to a tradition that connects the skill of a historian to her/his ability to be rational and dispassionate, if critically analysed, affects represent a powerful way by which we may have a different qualitative understanding of the past we are studying.

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