Wednesday, December 10, 2008

2008 Prizes for the African Studies Association

Prizes have been announced for the African Studies Association. The very significant Herskovits award was given out, and it's worth noting that Kai Kresse's recent book "Philosophising in Mombasa" received an honorable mention. In my opinion (and, it should be said, Kai's a friend of mine), the recognition is well deserved. See below for the whole list of winners and honorable mentions.




African Studies Association 2008 Melville J. Herskovits Award

The African Studies Association held its Presidential Lecture and
Awards Ceremony from 8:00 P.M. - 9:30 P.M. in the Sheraton Chicago
Hotel and Towers during the 50th Anniversary of the ASA's first
Annual Meeting in Chicago, IL, on November 14, 2008. The Presidential
Lecture was followed by the ASA Awards Ceremony, which honored the
recipients and honorable mentions for the 2008 Melville J. Herskovits

Melville J. Herskovits Award

The ASA annually presents the Melville J. Herskovits Award to the
author of an outstanding original scholarly work published on Africa
in the previous year. The Award Committee for 2008 consisted of Diana
Wylie, Chair, Boston University; Adam Ashforth, Northwestern
University; Elisabeth Cameron, University of California-Santa Cruz;
Toyin Falola, University of Texas; and Louise Meintjes, Duke
University. The ASA Board of Directors thanks the Award Committee for
its service and for providing the commentary that follows below. The
ASA Board of Directors also gratefully acknowledges the Kennell A.
Jackson, Jr. bequest in endowing the Herskovits Award for 2008 and
for the future. The winners of the 2008 award are:

Linda M. Heywood and John K. Thornton, Central Africans, Atlantic
Creoles, and the Foundation of the Americas, 1585-1660 (Cambridge
University Press, 2007). This book narrates the making of a Creole
Atlantic world. It tells the story of the formative period of African-
American culture when Angolans were brought to the New World through
the slave trade to Portuguese, English and Dutch colonies. The
authors represent various Angolan kingdoms as culturally diverse and
changing. They also show the attitudes of Europeans to continental
Africans changing as they encountered African political, religious,
cultural and military institutions. Internecine wars produced
captives. Slave trading, initiated by Portuguese pioneers, was taken
over by Anglo-Dutch privateers, and then by Dutch and British
colonials conducting business with African sellers. With reference to
the Americas, we learn how the export of people who were already
Christian and literate made the terms of enslavement differ over
time. This multi-lingual research into the cultural, economic and
political factors that produced the Atlantic Creole world pays equal
attention to intra-colonial and local African struggles. It links
specific continental and New World histories, and integrates fine
detail with a broad thematic vision.

Parker Shipton, The Nature of Entrustment: Intimacy, Exchange, and
the Sacred in Africa (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2007). This
book is no less than an inquiry into what holds societies together:
the flow of trust over time. Shipton sets out to correct a market-
oriented analytical stress on the gift or the contract in order to
investigate how people actually build bridges between one another. He
analyzes the many ways people entrust things, including by marriage,
inheritance, and sacrifice. He ends up explaining with great clarity
an East African, specifically Luo, understanding of social life. The
book manages to be effortlessly local and general at the same time.
The implications for modern banking and development loans are clear:
the book is a sophisticated, gentle, and even humble indictment of
narrow economistic ways of looking at social life.

The following publications received an honorable mention:

David Anderson, Susan Beckerleg, Degol Hailu, and Axel Klein, The
Khat Controversy: Stimulating Debate on Drugs (Berg, 2007). Surveying
the historical, economic, cultural, and legal aspects of the khat
trade across Africa, Europe, and North America, this book considers
the implications of regulating the khat leaf as a "drug." The authors
predict increasing social tensions as khat production and
distribution are policed, as its consumers in the Horn Diaspora
become stigmatized as drug traffickers and abusers, and as small East
African farmers and entrepreneurs struggle to survive within a
neoliberal economy. The book takes advantage of the multi-
disciplinary skills and multi-sited knowledge of its four co-authors
to present a case study of a controversial global commodity that
benefits some people, but is condemned by others. This is an Africa-
specific contribution to analyses of local-level entrepreneurship and
to the study of the implications of transnational policies.

Jean-Paul Azam, Trade, Exchange Rate, and Growth in Sub-Saharan
Africa (Cambridge University Press, 2007). This book represents the
fruit of twenty years' work on African economies. Azam claims that
the conventional methods of macro-economics are useless in
understanding African economies: the assumptions are wrong, the
models faulty, the numbers meaningless. Nonetheless, hugely important
decisions bearing upon the fortunes of millions are made in the name
of "economic policy" by national states and international
institutions informed by such theories. The author has ventured into
the real worlds of African cross-border trade - in many places and
over long periods of time - while he struggles to figure out how to
model the impact of various policy decisions, such as tariff
reductions, common currency zones, and quotas in the light of the
realities of smuggling, bribery, and institutional weakness. As this
book makes clear, dealing with the complexities of real African
economies is far more difficult than working through the equations of
conventional macro-economic theory. This book aims to remind policy
makers to think again about the models driving their thought and to
inspire a new generation of economists to tackle the realities of
African economies.

Ruth Finnegan, The Oral and Beyond: Doing Things with Words in Africa
(University of Chicago Press, 2007). Based on fifty years reflecting
on oral forms in Africa, this book offers an impressive array of
analyses and interpretations of African oral literature, performance
and action: the full, complex range of doing things with words. In
elaborate detail, it shows how Africans use words, not only as
language deployed to communicate, but as a form of action. Setting
her studies within a global interdisciplinary framework, the author
confirms Africa's reputation as the oral continent: she calls it "the
home of oral literature, orature and orality, and the genesis and
inspiration of the voiced traditions of the great diaspora."
Carefully structured and dense chapters enrich our understanding of
text, textuality and performance, story telling and the actions of
story tellers, notions of the past and present, and the uses and
ideologies of language.

Kenda Mutongi, Worries of the Heart: Widows, Family, and Community in
Kenya (University of Chicago Press, 2007). Mutongi surveys a century
of Kenyan history from the perspective of ordinary people in western
Kenya. She uses the condition of widowhood as a lens through which to
observe the history of colonialism, Christianity, independence
movements, gender relations, urban migration, proletarianization,
corruption, domesticity, nation-building, and much else besides, even
memories of the slave trade. The book is a critical and sympathetic
inquiry into an extraordinary range of topics as they impinge on the
lives of ordinary people in Maragoli, Kenya. The author never loses
sight of the realities of the lives of the people about whom she
writes, and she writes about them with an intimacy and sense of
connection coupled with an admirable analytical detachment. She
weaves into her elegantly written text both the content of her
diverse sources as well as accounts of how she came by them. The book
is an exemplary work of historical ethnography.

Kai Kresse, Philosophising in Mombasa: Knowledge, Islam and
Intellectual Practice On the Swahili Coast (Edinburgh University
Press, 2007). Kresse has written an anthropological study of
philosophical discourses in Mombasa, and he sets them clearly in
their geographical and temporal context. His discussion is rooted in
intimate knowledge of Mombasa neighborhoods and of the intellectual
genealogy of three individual thinkers, whose moral thought he also
documents. We learn how three sages - a healer, a Muslim scholar, a
poet - think about the big issues: What can we know? What should we
do? He acknowledges the importance of factional power struggles among
members of contemporary Muslim movements in Mombasa, but his interest
in Islamic thought is broader than this political perspective. While
essentially a case study of Swahili thought, Kresse is making the
bigger argument that there must be more interdisciplinary cooperation
between philosophy and anthropology, and he argues persuasively for
the investigation of philosophy in everyday life.

The African Studies Association was founded in 1957 to bring together
people with a scholarly and professional interest in Africa. Further
information about the Melville J. Herskovits Award, including how to
nominate a publication, is available at http://

African Studies Association ->

Bruce B. Janz
Chair, Dept. of Philosophy
Associate Professor of Humanities
University of Central Florida
4000 Central Florida Blvd.
Orlando, FL 32816-1352
TEL: 407-823-5408
DEPT: 407-823-2273
FAX: 407-823-6658 ( )

1 comment:

Renegade Eye said...

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