CfP: Asixoxe – Let’s Talk! SOAS Conference on African Philosophy, 28-29 April 2016, London, Deadline 1 April 2016

Call for Papers
Asixoxe – Let’s Talk! SOAS Conference on African Philosophy
28th-29th April 2016, Russell Square Campus, SOAS, University of London

The annual Asixoxe – Let’s Talk! African Philosophy conference has, since its establishment in 2014, been a steady source of highly original research in the domain of African Philosophy. Asixoxe is an expression in the southern African languages Ndebele and Zulu. It means “let’s talk!” Bearing this title the conference places emphasis on the spoken word, togetherness and friendship as the social basis of our scholarly engagement with African Philosophy. At the same time, through the succession of two click sounds, the word asixoxe iconically represents the way human speech adds a specific rhythm to time and to thought.

This year’s conference is organized jointly by SOAS and the University of Bayreuth: the two-day event at SOAS will be followed by a day’s workshop hosted by the Department of Literatures in African Languages of the University of Bayreuth. The SOAS conference will take place in the SOAS Russell Square campus, opening at 9:00 on 28th April and closing at 18:00 on 29th April 2016.

We invite papers on the specific focus of this year’s Asixoxe, which is Philosophy and Area Studies; however, we also welcome papers on other topics related to African philosophy. The question of the relationship of African Philosophy to Area Studies translates into fundamentally different methods of approaching African thought, namely identitarian approaches as opposed to comparative ones. Since its inception in the middle of the 20th century, African Philosophy has been riddled with issues of identity. The discipline has predominantly been constructed and understood within an identitarian paradigm: African Philosophy is seen as the ultimate expression of a distinct African (or otherwise defined local, e.g. Akan, Bantu, etc.) identity and defined in opposition to an “other”, almost always “Western philosophy”, itself understood as an essentialized, monolithic body of thought characterized by certain key qualities. Most typically, these distinctions copy the binaries known from other forms of essentialized difference (e.g. gender): emotive, intuitive, collective, counter-rationalistic is opposed to critical, analytical, logic, rational. A major part of the debate on African Philosophy stays within the limits of reinforcing or questioning these binaries, or arguing for a grey zone between both extremes.

The researchers in African Philosophy at SOAS and at Bayreuth have for many years now discussed the relevance of the identitarian perspective for African Philosophy and explored the potential of a comparative approach: bringing African Philosophy into a productive dialogue with the Western tradition, a dialogue which leaves no party unchanged and which challenges equally African philosophical ideas and European ones. Rebecca Stacey’s (SOAS) seminal paper identifies two alternatives to an Area Studies approach: namely “Comparative Philosophy” and “Global/World Philosophy”, the former striving to bring two or more philosophical traditions into a balanced communication and the latter aiming at an inclusion of multiple local philosophical traditions under a globally constructed unitarian philosophical discipline.

The conference envisages to develop this reflection further. The debate on African Philosophy epitomizes the dilemmas related to Area Studies when the concept is applied to disciplines which have to deal with ways of meaning-making which depend on the conceptualizations by the people or discourses which are studied. These disciplines cannot treat who and what they study as “objects” but must develop a fundamentally ethical approach to these, based on mutual respect as well as the willingness of the researcher to see and challenge his/her position of power. Ultimately, this reflection addresses the question: is Area Studies a viable concept for such discourse-based disciplines, or does it inevitably involve the violent imposition of Western standards upon a region?

Asixoxe is open to all those who are passionate about philosophy and about Africa, including university students at all levels of their academic development. Indeed, the conference aspires to foster the synergy of fresh scholarly minds and ripe expertise in creating a platform for their exchanges and thus nurturing the growth of the discipline of African Philosophy. The conference has already produced significant contributions to the field. Selected papers from the first run in 2014 are being published as a special issue of the Journal of African Cultural Studies and the 2015 papers are currently being edited for publication in a volume in 2017.

We cordially invite you to participate in the event. Please confirm your participation and submit the titles of your papers by 1st April 2016 to SOAS students do not have to submit abstracts of their papers, but participants who are not current students of SOAS are asked to send abstracts of 100-200 words. Each speaker will be given 20 minutes for the presentation, with subsequent 10 minutes for questions and discussion. We envisage a subsequent publication of selected papers from the conference. There is no registration fee for presenters and other participants.

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