Janet Roitman

Development Seminar

Africa, Otherwise

Friday 8 April
12 to 2 pm
AP 246, 19 Russell Street

Lunch will be provided, please register for this Development Seminar here: http://anthropology.utoronto.ca/events/development-seminar-janet-roitman/

What are the stakes of crisis? While there are abundant essays and analyses that attempt to explain crises, there is a surprising lack of attention to the concept of crisis itself. Although crisis typically refers to a historical conjuncture (war, economic recession, famine) – or to a moment in history, a turning point – it has been taken to be the defining characteristic of the African continent for some three decades now.  Can one speak of a state of enduring crisis?  Is this not an oxymoron?   In effect, how can one think about Africa – or think “Africa” – otherwise than under the sign of crisis?  This is the central question of this essay.  However, instead of starting with a particular crisis (e.g. Congo) and then proceeding on to generalizations (colonialism, postcolonialism, neoliberalism), I begin with a general problem in order to take us to Africa.  The problem is not Africa per se, but rather the concept of crisis. By opening the black box of crisis, we can consider the presumption that crisis has an a priori status in history.  We can ask: How does the term crisis serve as a place from which narrative accounting can begin? How is crisis mobilized to engender conditions of action, serving to constitute a particular mode of critique?  By attending to the practice of the concept of crisis, we can better understand how the term enables and forecloses various kinds of questions. Instead of arguing “against” crisis – imagining that one could somehow move “beyond crisis” – we can then focus on the effects of the claim to crisis.

This Development Seminar is co-sponsored by Intersections.

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