How Political is Knowledge?

5th Basel Summer School in African Studies (13-17 September 2021, online)

*Application deadline extended to 9 August 2021*

No serious scholar of African affairs can afford to ignore the role politics has played in shaping the language of science addressing Africa and the goals of the knowledge produced. It has been a staple of African critiques of knowledge production on the continent to suspect that such knowledge is consistent with discourses speaking to regimes of power and truth likely to represent Africa problematically. The question arising from this concerns the methodological implications for research in Africa.

There is a political economy of knowledge production in Africa requiring critical reflection. It raises general questions about the relationship between knowledge and politics. To address these questions, however, we have to reflect even more intensely on what it means to claim that knowledge is political. Does it mean that knowledge is a function of the exercise of power? What are the standards based on which we can validate knowledge? More broadly speaking, what is the basis of intelligibility in scholarly conversations?

The Basel Summer School in African Studies 2021 invites applications from doctoral students interested in exploring these issues as part of a larger framework of engaging with methodological challenges in African Studies. Applicants should challenge themselves to look critically into their work and ask themselves what role any of the issues listed below play in it:

  1. What normative assumptions underlie your research?
  2. What regimes of power and truth, but also resistance and contention, speak through your research?
  3. What does the idea that “knowledge is political” mean in your research, and how do you go about it?
  4. How “objective” are the standards for the validation of your research findings?

Applications should include a letter of motivation with a clear statement on how the applicant approaches the challenge of “objectivity” in the social sciences and humanities bearing on African Studies

How to write a book review 

Through writing and submitting a book review to a scholarly journal, this Advanced Study Skills workshop focuses on participants’ writing habits, their competences, and output. It inculcates the write – review – revise cycle and combines this with the writing and talking about writing cycle (the latter divided into talk about the writing process and talk about the written text). Prior to the workshop, participants should submit a proposal for a book review they plan to submit to a journal. During the workshop, they will analyse the features of book reviews, paying attention to the overall structure of the genre as well as its most prominent linguistic features, such as condensation and evaluation that balances criticism and praise. During and after the workshop, participants will give and receive peer feedback as well as receive feedback from the lecturer, thereby supporting them to submit their review to a suitable journal, should they so wish.


Elísio Macamo, Professor of African Studies at the University of Basel

Ralph Weber, Professor of European Global Studies at the University of Basel

There will be further resource persons to facilitate specific sessions.

Advanced Study Skills

Stephan Meyer, Deputy of the Director and Coordinator English, Language Center of the University of Basel

The summer school is open for PhD students enrolled in Switzerland and abroad.

The summer school takes place online via Zoom.

For PhD candidates enrolled at a university in Switzerland or in Africa, the Summer School is free of charge. The participation fee for all other PhD candidates is CHF 100.

Contact: Pascal Schmid

Participants will be selected on the strength and merits of a two-page application letter in which they state how they approach the challenge of “objectivity” in the social sciences and humanities and what role the four issues listed above play in their research.

In addition, applications should include a CV of the applicant (via the upload link in the application form).

Applications must be submitted via the online application form.

The deadline for application is 9 August 2021.