The notion of ‘the field’ and the practices of researching and writing Africa

As part of the #MethodsMatter Blog Series, this week, we caught up with Prof Artwell Nhemachena, based at the University of Namibia, who has written on The Notion of the “Field” and the Practices of Researching and Writing Africa.

When did you realise the importance of the ‘field’ and practices of researching and writing Africa?

AN: During my Ph.D. studies and Postdoctoral research fellowship, I was interested in matters of knowledge and translation: it was out of interest in matters of knowledge and translation that I realised the importance of the field and practices of researching and writing Africa. The challenges that colonial scholars had in translating Africa signaled the theoretical, epistemological and ontological baggage that they brought to researching and writing Africa.

Why do you think this is so powerful in decolonising research methods?

AN: Unfortunately research agendas have hitherto been set outside the continent of Africa and this means that the theoretical lenses, the epistemic and ontological assumptions underpinning research are brought to Africa from elsewhere. The paper on decolonising research is important in decolonising research methods because it calls for scholars not to regard Africa as a mere “field” where “raw data” is gathered – it calls for relevant theorisations on the premise of African epistemologies and ontologies. The paper deimperialises research methods in ways that would guarantee relevance of research to Africans. It challenges international and local researchers that continue to consider Africans as “raw”, “savages”, as “things” and as “animals” or nonhumans on whom experimentation can be and is consistently done. When researchers want to test new drugs, they often come to do so on Africans; when researchers think of testing technology including drones, they come to do so in Africa – the paper challenges these practices which assume that Africans are inconsequential others. It shows that such assumptions also animated the minds of colonial researchers.

How has this realisation shaped your work since writing this piece?

AN: I have learned not to impose Eurocentric theories on the African contexts and I have taken note of the importance of considering African research participants as experts, in their own right, who do not merely provide researchers with raw data but with epistemologies and ontologies around which relevant decolonial theories can be crafted.

You can read ‘The Notion of the “Field” and the Practices of Researching and Writing Africa: Towards Decolonial Praxis’, here.

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