Colonial borders still influence how academics write about Africa

Africa is not a country—but a continent with one billion people, living in 55 different countries, and speaking more than 2,000 languages.

Yet a relatively narrow coverage of Africa and its people exists not only in mainstream media, but as a new research paper shows, in academia as well. Virginia Tech University analyzed 20 years of research articles published in two major journals about African politics, namely African Affairs published by Oxford University and The Journal of Modern African Studies by Cambridge University.

The paper investigated whether by reading Anglophone scholarship on sub-Saharan politics between 1993 and 2013, one could actually learn more about the region’s political reality and complexity.

In his paper, published this month, Ryan C. Briggs, an assistant professor at the department of political science, notes that studies around sub-Saharan Africa cluster heavily on a small number of wealthier, more populous, and English-speaking nations.

Fewer than half of all the countries in the region—46 in total—were written about more than 10 times, with the majority of them being former British colonies like Nigeria, Ghana, and Kenya. Former French colonies were the focus of about 5 papers on average, while those colonized by Britain had about 27 articles written about them. Population size also mattered a lot: for every 5% increase in a country’s populace, the number of articles in every four-year period increased by about 3%.

If this shows us anything, Briggs writes, it is that Anglophone research does not represent regional politics, but rather uses “broad generalizations” deduced from specific countries to produce “a skewed image of sub-Saharan Africa” that is then applied to other countries.

Read more…

Originally published on Quartz Africa.

 

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