BIEA Annual PhD Conference: Centres and Peripheries – Rethinking binaries in Kenya & East Africa, Oct. 31 2015 @ BIEA
Date: October 31, 2015
Venue: British Institute in Eastern Africa, Laikipia Road, Kileleshwa
Scholarship on Africa in the social sciences and humanities has long wrestled with the distinction between centre and periphery, across diverse contexts and historical periods. Whether applied to the broad conceptualisation of the ‘Global South’s’ place in a capitalist world order, or the relationship between African cities and their rural environs, or the significance of what Murray Last and others termed ‘deep rurals’ for a myriad of pre-colonial political orders, trade routes and state systems across the wider region, centre-periphery tensions and confluences have long been a powerful problematic underlying African studies.
Increasing recognition of the historical, social, cultural and political significance of the shifting realities of life across sub-Saharan Africa, the mobility of migrants, and the waxing and waning spread of ideas, religious movements and different forms of political organisation and sociality, has provoked social scientists, historians and archaeologists to look beyond static models of social life in order to understand regional connections, power fluctuations and mutating political thought in Kenya, eastern Africa and beyond. Yet within this broader re-focusing of attention upon ‘trans-regional’ flows, connections and mobilities, ‘centre and periphery’ tensions have shown little sign of going away any time soon. Recent critical theory has framed ‘Africa’ – too often still re-imagined as an undifferentiated whole – as a (peripheral) zone of experimentation for neo-liberal forms of statecraft. In Kenya, in particular, the reality of a new constitution and devolved political structure has revived older discussions of ‘centre and periphery’ in academic and other spaces. Similarly, studies of urban social movements and state power continue to find in notions of ‘centre and periphery’ a model to think through competing forms of protest and governance in Kenya, the region and the wider continent.
If ‘centres and peripheries’ have found new political and social salience in Kenya, and across eastern Africa, through a new politics of constitutionalism and devolution, as well as in activist and protest contexts, they have also had an energising and constraining influence on the process of doing research. What and where is ‘the field’ in which the researcher ‘works’? For what reasons and how are particular ‘sites’ identified and chosen? How does the researcher get there? For whom does the researcher research/write? And to what extent are researchers complicit in the reification of particular boundaries through which specific ‘centres’ and peripheries’ are constantly being reconstituted. These questions are pertinent to anyone who does research in East Africa, concerning as it does, town and country, home and away.
The forthcoming PhD conference will offer emerging research scholars and PhD candidates working in Kenya and East Africa an opportunity to re-consider the legacy, significance and use of notions of ‘centre-periphery’ as they relate to their research. We welcome submissions across a range of disciplines and themes, including, but not limited to: Archaeology, History, Anthropology, Sociology, Political Science, Geography, Literary, linguistic and Cultural studies.