Session 1

Decolonizing Social Science Methodology – Towards African Epistemologies

Colonialism was a direct political control of people of a given territory by a foreign power. Usually, if not always, colonialism was accompanied by permanent settlements, or occupation, by people from the colonizing power, such as the British, French, or Germans. The colonized people were mainly in the continents of Africa, Asia, and Latin America. At the experiential level, colonialism was really the political control of one race by another, with the colonial settlers invariably being ‘Western’, ‘European’, and ‘White’, and the colonized being the ‘Other’. But colonialism was also, simultaneously, about the production of ideological justifications of such control, which justifications involved the creation of a perception in the ‘Other’ of the superiority of the colonizer, hence the asymmetrical power relations that characterized the relationship between the two agents’. This condescension encompassed all aspects of the ‘Other’s’ systems (i.e. the economic, cultural, political, legal, etc. systems), including the epistemologies and methodologies on which such systems were predicated. All these aspects required total eradication and a root and branch replacement with a Western European world view. The result was a systematic marginalization and undervaluation, if not total eradication, of the ‘Other’s’ worldview (Chilisa, 2012). The impartation of this worldview constituted the ‘process of civilization’, a process that necessarily involved a unidirectional transfer of information, skills, understanding and civilization from the European to the ‘Other’ (Serpell, 1993). This is how the Western European colonial epistemologies and methodologies came to inform and shape the development and trajectory of the social sciences, and are today regarded as the essential ingredients in the process of production of knowledge. The main objective of the proposed session is to call for the emancipation of the social sciences from Western, European epistemologies and methodologies in the production of knowledge. It is a modest attempt to reinsert African epistemologies and methodologies in the discourses of the social sciences, with a view to making the social sciences more relevant to the African context. This would constitute an exercise in decolonization of social sciences knowledge production and curation.

Papers in the proposed session will based on following assumptions:

(1) That there is an inherent bias in theoretical, problem selection, methodological and research priorities in research in the social sciences in Africa, which emanates from European and American foundational social sciences literature.

(2) That instead of being displaced during the postcolonial phase, these foundational works and their inherent biases were further entrenched and perpetuated globally, yielding a social sciences thinking out of sync with contemporary realities in Africa.

(3) That the significance of these biases and systematic silencing of the ‘African voice’ denied a “voice of its own” to the post-colonial subjectivity. Accordingly, papers in the proposed session would include indigenous post-colonial methodologies and epistemologies. Furthermore, emphasis will be on the heterogeneous and plural methodological tradition, meant to critique and displace the global hegemony and privilege of Eurocentric/Colonialist and Orientalist discourses. We affirm that such attempts constitute a reformulation of Social Science discourse that will pave the pay for the development of fresh concepts, theories, methodologies and research agendas appropriate to the African context.

Two goals would guide such an important and urgent academic mission: (a) it would problematize the notion of ‘value-free’ (objective) research that is entrenched in Eurocentric conceptions, and, in the process, contemplate producing knowledge that is relevant and engaging, and that (b) such alternative methodologies do not call for a willy-nilly rejection of extant canons, but rather seeks to put emphasis on regional and local historical experiences and cultural practice i.e. contextualization. This session will carter for papers from different social science disciplines, e.g., Economics, Political Science, Psychology, Sociology etc.





1.Unpacking the Methodological and Epistemogical Paradox in the Social Sciences: Towards African Epistemologies

Boniface Nevanji Bwanyire (Technical University of Berlin, Germany)

It has become clear in the social sciences that the existing and dominant methodological approaches are falling short in addressing the methodological needs of diverse scholars and cultural regions across the globe. This is, in part, a result of the fact that these dominant methodologies were developed from particular loci of enunciations that were geographically and culturally located, but were albeit, presented as universal, and sacrosanct. It is against this backdrop, that this paper argues that the methodological paradox that is currently bedevilling the social sciences is fundamentally epistemological in nature, and that any efforts to address this problem must commence from an epistemological foundation. There is growing consensus amongst sociologists that systems of thought invariably influence how we make decisions about what constitutes knowledge and how this knowledge can be attained. In other words, how we think influences how we act, thus, our understanding of what can be known or must be known, influences how we attempt to attain this knowledge. Part of the problem therefore is that the existing and dominant methodologies are based on a particular episteme about what can or must be known, and this consequently creates blind spots and undermines their adequacy in addressing certain types of research questions, especially in contexts with competing systems of thought, cultures and beliefs. Using the arguments from decolonial theory, this paper seeks to unpack the epistemological roots of this ensuing methodological paradox and explore avenues for the inculcation of African epistemologies in developing methodologies that are appropriate and sufficient for answering research questions in the African context. The ultimate aim of the paper is to contribute towards current discussions on the decolonization of social science methodologies, by highlighting the potentialities of bringing to the fore hitherto suppressed African epistemologies in contemporary methodological discussions.


2.Africanizing Social Work Research and Practice: Perspectives from Fieldwork Experience in Nigeria

Kenechukwu Anugwom (University of Nigeria, Nsukka, Nigeria)

There is no gainsaying the fact that Western or Euro-American approaches are the orthodox approaches in social work practice globally. This is not surprising given that social work has a largely western history or origin. The above notwithstanding, experience has shown that these approaches often appear insufficient when it comes to capturing the peculiar realities and nuances of fieldwork practice in a typical African society like Nigeria. In other words, the social worker may become incapacitated in responding to client needs or social situations in spite of the mastery of these orientations. In effect, social work is primarily a social science and thus its practice and even relevance is determined or affected by the social context in which it is practiced. In view of the foregoing, this paper attempts to highlight some typical realities in a typical African situation that are inured to these approaches. Thus, it highlights some obvious incapacities of these western approaches in dealing with social situations in Nigeria using actual experiences from field practice. Given the social scientific nature of social work, its values is influenced by the socio-cultural context in which it is practiced. Therefore, the methodological challenge of social work in Nigeria and by implication in Africa would be on how to tailor or indigenize social work approaches to capture extant realities of African experiences especially from a socio-cultural perspective. The paper aims to make a modest contribution to the above challenge by focusing on how social work research and practice can be tailored to match the social context in Africa.


3.Decoloniality-decolonisation debate: convergent or divergent frameworks?

Chadzimula Molebatsi (University of Botswana, Botswana)

This paper is an exploratory attempt at contributing to the decoloniality-decolonisation debate. The paper muses over the question ‘as traditions of thought, is decoloniality the same as decolonisation? From the burgeoning literature on decolonisation, it is evident that myriad of terms – anti-colonial, decoloniality, Southern theory, postcoloniality are often used interchangeably. We consider the question of whether ‘decoloniality is the same as decolonisation’ important in charting pathways towards embracing other knowledges, cosmovisions and more importantly, formulating options in the formulation of transformational agendas. The paper embraces the position championed by decolonial scholars and maintains that decoloniality means much more than decolonisation. Using examples drawn from urban planning in the global South the paper argues that although the two schools of thought are united by their dissatisfaction with hegemonic western approaches to knowledge and knowledge production, the options offered lead to different urban futures.


4.Decolonizing Procurement: Overcoming systemic barriers to equity

Rita S. Fierro-Fierro consulting (LLC, USA)

In the context of development projects, it’s easy to see inequity in the oppositional dynamics between the haves and have-nots: Global North vs the Global South, urban centers vs rural villages, formal education vs. indigenous wisdom. Analyses of inequity often focus the unequal distribution of resources among the former who are advantaged over the latter. After years working in Africa as a researcher and an evaluator with a background in inequity, several projects not only revealed existing inequities, but perpetuated them through systemic mechanisms: bureaucratic procurement processes above all. While procurement processes claim to favor attaining the best quality product at the best price, many hidden mechanisms are at play that maintain old colonial structures. I will highlight three systemic mechanisms that used procurement processes use to ensure the perpetuation of neo-colonial structures suppressing local authority, knowledge, and prosperity: the eligibility criteria of different firms for different projects, the structure of consultant pay, and the complex role of expectations and contract conditions. For each mechanism, I will highlight specific case studies from projects conducted in West African and East Africa between 2011-2015. Based on these cases, I will also propose how procurement policies may change to support community power-building and equitable results. I will also highlight how early lessons in participatory grant-making in the United States may help inform transforming procurement processes.


5.The African Inspection

Nyakallo Lekuta (University of Botswana, Botswana)

In order to facilitate the thriving of African societies adaptation has been an ever-occurring mechanism that has allowed this geography to facilitate imported structures of economic and societal function. A conundrum that has presented itself is that academia, a fruitful institution gaining ever increasing significance in modern African nation building, has yet to be subjected to a rubric it must satisfy. This paper aims to problematize John Scott’s Quality Control criteria and introduce criteria with a similar mandate that is better tailored for Africa. This project is inspired by the need to address the methodological problem of the social sciences seeking to achieve decoloniality within colonial structure, which, Dr. Lwazi Siyabonga Lushaba attests is complex but still possible. The new criteria “can be constructed and reconstructed” as necessary (Maxwell, 2012), allowing appropriate accessing, handling, and processing of indigenous African knowledge within the Social Sciences and wider academia. The proposed criteria is that academic practices be subject to assessment as to whether they meet the standard of firstly being ethical for African societies, secondly, essential for postcolonial African renaissance/revival mandates and thirdly, encouraging of the trust of indigenous epistemologies. As African Indigenous approaches are designed based on the cultural and contextual elements of the continent, they inherently situate African history as told by itself. This paper suggests a tool for academic praxis to tangibly be made adaptable to African culture using the mentioned criteria as a set standard for academia to satisfy. Enforcing these criteria will remove the underestimation of what it means to conduct the colonial import of academia in geographies needing substantial postcolonial and decolonial engagement. This will spur deeper interrogation of the prevalent patriarchies and capitalisms Africa facilitates in the varies structures with close relation to academia, which has until present been an engagement of Africanness having to open itself up to the new. This paper seeks to explore how academia can going forward, in response open itself up to African needs, norms and culture.


6.Decoloniality and the production of space: what does it really mean?

Seabo Morobolo (University of Strathclyde, United Kingdom)

Culture and space connection has for many decades been a subject of interest within the built environment disciplines to try and proposed culturally sensitive environments. However, the disciplinary boundaries that exist have often confined it to particular aspects based on their frames of reference and methodological approaches. Quite often the dominant approaches have also been plagued by constructing the researched and their environments as ‘the other’, thus viewing them as subjects to be studied and observed. Drawing from the Latin American school of modernity/coloniality/decoloniality project, I explore how a decolonial approach that shifts the geography of reasoning to other knowledges could offer an avenue to understand this relationship and the transformation in Botswana’s urban villages. Drawing from the decolonial theoretical framework, I examine the transformation of culture and organisation of space as a consequence of interaction between two knowledges. Critical of western structures of knowledge and their dominant narratives which tend to suppress other knowledges, the decolonial framework advocates for a shift in theorising to understand how coloniality has operated to suppress other ways of being, knowing and doing; as well as questioning the ‘objectivity of modernist knowledge’. In following this argument, I present decoloniality as an option that allows us to question how knowledge about this subject has been produced, the relevance and challenges of disciplinary boundaries and implications for adopting such an approach to study transformation of space. Through a historicised account of the transformation, I then present preliminary findings of an analysis of the physical environment of three Tswana urban villages as part of an ongoing decolonial inquiry into culture and space transformation. Using concepts of border-thinking, coloniality of knowledge and coloniality, I further show how the new (modernist) knowledge became codified and institutionalised to control space organisation thus paving the way for a new physical environment.