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Coursenotes, Week 2, ANTH326 – Peoples & Cultures of Sub-Saharan Africa

Africanist Anthropology

ANTH326/4A – Peoples & Cultures of Sub-Saharan Africa

Meeting 2: January 19, 2015

Last Week: Basics

Reflection Posts: Infrastructure


Activity 1: People’s Thoughts on Africa

  • Patterns?
  • Representative?
  • Perspectives?




  • Exoticism
  • Dispelling myths
  • Diversity
  • Wisdom
  • Postcolonialism
  • Postdevelopment
  • “Voluntourism“


  • Anthropology
  • History
  • Literature, Fine Arts, Humanities…
  • Cultural Studies, Ethnic Studies
  • Language, Linguistics
  • Political Science
  • Economics, Environment, Health…


  • Mostly US/Europe
  • IU, SOAS, Leiden…
  • Post-Colonial

A Few Authors

  • Bâ, Diop, Mudimbe
  • Nkrumah, Kenyatta, Senghor, Nyerere
  • Fanon, Soyinka, Achebe, Appiah
  • Dieterlen, Griaule, Evans-Pritchard, Southall, Turner
  • Cole, Ferguson, Comaroffs
  • Grinker and Steiner

A Few ConU Resources

African Diversity

Regional Diversity

Cultural Diversity

Linguistic Diversity

Common in Africa?

  • Generalizations
  • Colonial
  • “Non-Western”
  • Diffusion
  • Globalization

Next Week: Perceptions and Superstructure

Exercise I: Perceptions

  • Find an object, a media item, or a person from outside of Africa
  • Which perception of Africa can be found in there?
  • How much does your perspective on Africa differ or relate to this one?
  • Does it perpetuate stereotypes?
    • If so, which one?
    • If not, how can we assess the accuracy of this perception?

Journal 2: Learning Journey

Reflection Posts 2: Superstructure

Africa, Fourth Edition

  • Chapter 5– Religions in Africa
  • Chapter 8 – Visual Arts in Africa
  • Chapter 9 – African Music Flows
  • Chapter 10 – Literature in Africa
  • Chapter 11 – African Film

Activity 2: Quotes

  • Pick a quote
  • What does it say about Africa?
  • How would it differ from what you would say?

Chinua Achebe

“I know the source of our problem, of course, anxiety. Africa has had such a fate in the world that the very adjective African can still call up hideous fears of rejection. Better then to cut all links with this homeland, this liability, and become in one giant leap the universal man. Indeed, I understand the anxiety. But running away from myself seems to me a very inadequate way of dealing with an anxiety. And if writers should opt for such escapism, who is to meet the challenge?”

Africa and Her Writers, p. 627

Desmond Tutu

“ When the missionaries came to Africa they had the Bible and we had the land. They said ‘Let us pray.’ We closed our eyes. When we opened them we had the Bible and they had the land.”

— Stephen Gish,
Desmond Tutu: A Biography, p. 101

Haile Selassie

“This world was not created piecemeal. Africa was born no later and no earlier than any other geographical area on this globe. Africans, no more and no less than other men, possess all human attributes, talents and deficiencies, virtues and faults.”

OAU Speech 1963 African Summit

Banyoro Proverb

“A child does not grow up only in a single home.”

— H-Net  Thread about “It Takes a Village”

ATT6: Marking Scheme

Been thinking about my “scheme” for marking assignments. It’s something I’ve designed based on some comments I was frequently making on those assignments.  Basically, all of these comments are positive but they’re set in a hierarchical structure, with “insight” at the top and concision at the bottom.

  • IF: Insightful
  • OC: Original and Creative
  • HP: Honest and Personal
  • TR: Thoughtful and Reflexive
  • EX: Appropriate Examples
  • ED: Elaborate and Detailed
  • CSF: Concise and Straightforward

In some ways, “TR” is the baseline. A “TR” paper is one which shows that the student has “done the work.” Nothing more, nothihng less.

The three marks above TR are “added value.” Not only has the student given back what was expected, but s/he put her-/himself in the work, did something unique, or even reached a high level of insight.

The three marks below “TR” are a way to emphasise the positive while pointing out some potential problems. An assignment with appropriate examples is useful, but it may not reach the expected level of understanding. Long papers filled with lots of details require some effort, but may miss the point of the assignment. And some very short but clear assignments at least show an ability to be concise, even if they don’t do much more.

These “marks” are usually combined in some way and student work can be “TR and ED” or “CSF and TR.” Order counts, with the first mark being the most important. Outstanding work will usually have “IF” as the first mark and often has two other comments. Suboptimal work is often “CSF and EX.”

Obviously, I also provide some more elaborate comments about some key points in the assignments. These range from “interesting emphasis on concept X but bear in mind that this was about concepts X and Y” to “you’ve clearly understood the issues and you’ve really managed to do something unique with this paper.” Even in those fleshed out comments, I might end up reusing the same comment, if similar issues happened in assignments by diverse students. Generic work may get generic comments and outstanding work often gets very specific comments.

As I assess an assignment, I have something close to “sliders” in mind, with something resembling VU meters. (Not literally, but the image works.) The balance between the abbreviated qualities may shift as I work with the text: “It seems to be mostly TR but maybe there’s a nugget of creativity, somewhere” or “It starts out in a very unique way but let’s check if this originality carries through.” When something reaches a high level of insight (relative to the context, of course), it can “peak out the master” and, unless the rest of the text causes a radical drop in quality, the “IF” level will remain as part of the overall assessment.

The correspondance between the abbreviated marks and points/grades isn’t linear. I typically mark all assignments before I add the actual grades, so I get a good idea about the range in quality. I usually don’t work by direct comparison, but I also won’t grade down papers just because they’re not “publishing quality.”

In fact, as may be obvious from these marks, there are many things which don’t usually matter, to me, in an assignment. For instance, the only elements of form which do matter have to do with getting the message across and displaying a thorough understanding of the material. My assignments are about insight, not about production value. More specifically, I typically don’t “grade language,” though I could do so and have done so on occasion. In most cases, I’d rather not have students too self-conscious about their mastery of normative language.

I realize how idiosyncratic my “scheme” may be, but it’s worked quite well in several of my courses. For one thing, it helps bring home the point that I’m looking for insight. And it can help me explain that length matters very little.