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CEsA African Studies

African Studies: History, contemporary dynamics and post-colonial Luso-African identity

This research is in the domain of African studies, understood in the framework of an open subject, in the sense that it raises current issues on the historical and contemporary dimensions of being African. The Portuguese-speaking world, given the multiple and heterogeneous nature of its socio-historical construction, makes it a very special point of reference for observation and study. However, the epistemological construction of this world means that attention must be paid not only to different subjects in terms of their common framework, paradigms and tools for analysis, specific to social sciences seen from a western standpoint, but also to African wisdom, whose appeal is considered relevant from a heuristic point of view. Also in terms of the themes that make up the research which is being undertaken, the concern is to go beyond the boundaries of knowledge established around major systems and universal categories of perceiving socio-economic, political and cultural dynamics. We will be concerned therefore with aspects that are unpublished, less well known, more relating to the life and personal ways of experiencing what it is to be African. This line of research involves three thematic points of reference:

The social and economic history of Africa XIX-XX centuries

The trends leading to political and economic globalisation were one of the features of pre-colonial 19th century history. They are the starting point for a reflexion on the dynamics of closure that are characteristic of 20th century colonisation in the framework of European expansion. The emphasis here is on comparative analyses, with the experiences in Portuguese-speaking countries seen in the light of the way of life in other places dominated by European powers. A comparative stance also underlies the analysis of the political, social and economic dynamics in the post-colonial period, although particular attention is paid to the way things worked in the Portuguese-speaking colonies of Africa.
In 2012, CESA took its activities and its premises (which had been provided by ISEG/UTL) under the umbrella of the 2012-2014 Programme of the Portuguese Committee working on the UNESCO project Rota do Escravo. This programme included two projects of a distinct nature and with different contents targeting a common objective: the study of a topic that is essential for a knowledge of the history of Portugal and of the historic paths that were cementing and transforming national identity (and national identities) and another that is essential for the identification and safeguarding of historical and cultural heritage: ‘Memórias de África em Portugal – séculos XV-XXI’. Both projects include a definition and a survey of routes taken, sites, material or intangible heritage, real or virtual, and follow and develop the matrix studied by Isabel Castro Henriques and published in “A Herança Africana em Portugal – séculos XV-XX”, Lisbon, CTT, 2008 and later reviewed in the Exhibition Catalogue (itinerant) “Os Africanos em Portugal – História e Memória (XV-XXI)” Lisbon, 2011 (by the same author). It only remains to note that these two projects have a Portuguese dimension but also have a place in the setting-up of an International Network of Sites to the Memory of Slavery and of the black slave traffic. The aim is to put together a ‘World Map of Sites to the Memory of Slavery and Slave Trafficking’, a UNESCO project that has been around for a long time, dating back to 1994. Since then it has been developing in a systematic way on a world scale.

Contemporary diasporas originating in Lusophone space

This research area focuses on the social and territorial mobility of our own day and age. Within this framework, there is a specific point of reflection, seen through a cross-disciplinary analysis, and that is the paths both of individuals and communities of population groups originating in Lusophone space and still existing today. The theme of how identity is built will continue to power the research, but a reflexion on the role of this theme as a strategic recourse in the dynamics of socio-economic and cultural insertion of different communities could also well turn out to be of great relevance for opening up future lines of research. In this context, special attention should clearly be attached to an analysis of the nature of economic choices linked to the strategies for material reproduction and the ways used for integration by the diasporas originating in Lusophone space in the various places where they settle.

Indian diasporas originating from Mozambique

These groups have come to be an important focus of analysis. The research has centred over recent years on the Ismailis, who are Khojas originally from Gujarat, with the results (associated with a project financed by the FCT 2007/2011 - PTDC/AFR/69150/2006) published in Portugal and internationally (2008, 2010, 2012). This, along with other work upcoming (Khouri, Nicole &Pereira Leite, Joana (2014), Khojas Ismaili, du Mozambique colonial à la Globalisation, Paris L’Harmattan), underscores the pertinence of broadening knowledge about the ethnic multiplicity and the identity issues in the Portuguese-speaking world, starting from the colonial experience in Mozambique, and contributing to a written record of a distinctive history of colonisation. This provides an indispensable counterpoint to the visions of history as seen in broad brushstrokes that make up the legacy of recent colonial historical writing. Within the framework of this field of research, the aim will be, in the near future as in the past, to bolster the integration of research into Portuguese and international networks, broadening the studies to other communities that have existed in diasporas in western India (among them Hindus and Sunnis from India, the Chinese and the Greeks), with special emphasis on the issue of identity and the interactions between the various groups that made up colonial society. Following through on this also opens up a path to questions about the various communities in diasporas that make up the Lusophone space, specifically communities originating in the middle east (Lebanese, Syrians and Palestinians) in the current context of globalisation.

The Cape Verdean diaspora and its relations with the archipelago

The research on the Cape Verde diaspora focuses on an attempt to understand how this particular society is formed, with the emphasis on the study of the processes whereby the emigrant communities put down roots, following more than a century of mobility with Cape Verdeans settling in a variety of destinations. In tandem, the research looks in detail at the effects on Cape Verde itself from the emigration and from putting down roots, that is, specifically the place of origin, the archipelago, when the main collective indicators are created in the society of the diaspora. In this part of the work, the aim is to recognise and come to an understanding of the transformations as they are seen and the expectations of emigration, along with new forms of influence stemming from emigration at different spheres in the social life of the archipelago. The analysis should focus on how the identity of the diaspora is produced and come to a more precise understanding of the current identity markers that are more important for the Cape Verdeans, with clarification of the practices involving migrants and non-migrants, the use of the Creole language, the production and dissemination of the culture of the diaspora and the contemporary meaning of the symbols created and shared collectively.
The themes are developed within the scope of the 2008 Science Contract (CONT_DOUT/103/CESA/220/10826/1/2008), entitled “O conceito de diáspora: práticas, representações e produções da comunidade de diáspora cabo-verdiana” and the project “Para além das remessas: a consolidação da sociedade cabo-verdiana da diáspora e as transformações sócio-culturais e políticas em Cabo Verde” (GNT, Codesria, 2011-2013), coordinated by the researcher involved in the contract. A more detailed version - PTDC/ATP-DEM/5042/2012 (assessment in progress) was submitted to the FCT for financing.

The post-colonial studies

The theoretical side of post-colonial studies will be within a framework of critical analysis of three research topics, taking into account the way a critical view based on literature meshes with the theory, the visual arts and history:
a) By following up the project “Nação e Narrativa Pós-Colonial” (PTDC/AFR/68941/2006), which analysed the way the nation and identities were represented in post-colonial Angolan and Mozambican narratives, and now are looking into these representations in the written and visual narratives of Cape Verde, the S. Tomé and Príncipe islands and Guiné-Bissau.
b) “Os Estudos do Índico. Imaginários, História e Representações”. This is a project focusing on the critical theory produced in the context of comparative literature and culture of the Indies, leading to a critical anthology on the issue written in Portuguese.
c) The research into stories in the literature is taken to be within the framework of current debates on world literature, post-colonial literature and the literature of specific countries.

Contemporary dynamics of African societies

This field of research is within the scope of the programme of work set out for those doing PhDs, those who have done their PhDs and those doing post-doctorate work at CESA/ISEG, backed by the FCT or through an application submitted for appreciation in a competitive procedure. The work involved covers recent socio-economic and political problems in sub-Saharan Africa, with special reference to southern Africa, and Mozambique in particular.