Readings in Methodology – African Perspectives

The Council for the Development of Social Science Research in Africa (CODESRIA), based in Dakar, Senegal, has produced some excellent books and journals. One example of this is "Readings in Methodology – African Perspectives", published in 2011, and edited by Jean-Bernard Ouedraogo and Carlos Cardoso. The book has five parts: (1) social reasons for scientific practice, (2) logics of discovery, (3) contextual determinations, (4) tools for investigation, and (5) writing and research. The collection is 272 pages and has 13 chapters.

The book is available online here.

I quote from Chapter 2, by Jean-Bernard Ouédraogo and Pierre Bouda, to provide a glimpse into the collection.

"African intellectual activity thus appears to be something like a market of second hand or recycled goods. Conceptual objects are seldom new when they are imported and they are hardly ever invented here. To add some credibility to a social activity with staged intentions, this practical system adopts a rigid methodology as a way of fighting against academic theorisation. From the ordinary viewpoint, this asks too many questions without getting many answers. We need answers, even wrong answers – expert investigation will look for the error. But the heuristic power of this domain is extremely limited, in many cases, by the constraint of a methodological monism, which blocks the discovery of anything original and imposes an ideology of local demand that is supposed to be authentic, sacred but still prefabricated. In the background, one can detect the implementation of a modernist model, which is based on a bipolar and static perception, expressed in terms of what is 'modern' and what is 'archaic'. The calm application of these approaches leads to a sterilisation of the scientific approach. But for us, the question is still one of defining the way in which knowledge of the social world can contribute to the development of collective well being." (p. 23)

"Epistemological prejudices affect both methodology and areas of investigation. The wise observer of the African research world soon learns an almost systematic and one-sided definition of research themes that are 'interesting' for wealthy sponsors, for 'experts' and for international organisations. These organisations and 'partners' constantly interfere to define a hierarchisation of problematics, which often has nothing to do with the concerns of researchers themselves and even less to do with any local perspective of building up and using information. In this situation, the African researcher is reduced to being nothing more than a collector of 'facts'1 on the ground, for the 'partner from the north' to analyse and to write in a language that is suitable for such raw material. This skill moves further and further away from the spirit of discovery, and its arrangements are made in accordance with market forces. One cannot say often enough that the symbolic benefit of academic recognition is devalued in favour of the doubtful advantages of acquiring material possessions" (p. 26)

"The African researcher, either as a happy clown or as a sad and obstinate Prometheus, painfully tries to master the dilemma that overwhelms him and to refuse to retire into internal exile or to deny his own identity." (p. 29)

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