This course examines the ways in which “culture” has been practiced and theorized in Africa and the African diaspora. It foregrounds many of the imaginative forms and practices that “culture” takes, while giving equal attention to how scholars have sought to interpret cultural and artistic productions in their relationship to the social and political lives of Africans, members of the African diaspora, and beyond. The course will also examine the uses to which cultural productions are put, including efforts on the part of practitioners, listeners, political activists, and critics to employ culture in order to effect social and political change.
This—the critical and creative practice of “theory”—is what “theory of African cultural studies” means in its most robust and imaginative senses. We will survey the history of conceptual and critical apprehension, from Negritude to postcolonialism to Afro-pessimism; explore methods of critical reading; raise the issue of linkages between African- and black-centered criticism to sources in European and U.S. social thought; and assess the extent to which African and African diasporic culture as expressed by its creators and scholars has tried to tame and refashion what are now globally shared critical tools of cultural interpretation.
The course will operate as a seminar and require a moderate level of reading each week. The readings—together with videos, music, etc.—will form the basis of our weekly discussions. Consistent participation is expected from all members of the seminar. A final term paper of 10-12 pages is required. Graduate students will be expected to complete additional requirements.