Institutt for sosialantropologi
bsas seminar

Jemima Pierre - Problems of Ethnography and Imperialism: Some Notes on West Africa

Portrett av Jemima Pierre


This presentation explores the contradictions, difficulties, and possibilities of deploying “imperialism” – that oft-maligned and much contested term – as an analytical framework and interpretive tool for undertaking ethnographic research on postcolonial Africa.

I approach the question of imperialism through a consideration of the long history of resource extraction in Ghana, with a specific focus on the gold and oil industries. Using these industries as ethnographic and historical points of departure, I make two arguments:

1) that an examination of natural resource extraction can illuminate the structural configuration of the ongoing process of colonial and post- (or neo-) colonial exploitation; and
2) that the critical study of such industries demonstrates the theoretical and political limits of certain practices of ethnography to attend to and represent everyday Ghanaian social, cultural, political, and intellectual life.

Important here is the context of asymmetric and unequal global power relations, that is, the relations of imperialism, through which both resource extraction and ethnography occur. I am concerned with how we might provoke an ethnographic hesitation, and to claim an ethical position, around observing and documenting forms of postcolonial African subjectivity through the exposition of its continuing imperial context of enunciation.

Jemima Pierre holds a PhD in sociocultural anthropology from the University of Texas at Austin. She is currently Associate Professor jointly appointed in the Departments of African American Studies and of Anthropology at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). Dr. Pierre is the author of The Predicament of Blackness: Postcolonial Ghana and the Politics of Race, and is currently completing her second book, Race and Africa: Cultural and Historical Legacies (under contract). Simultaneously, she is carrying out a longitudinal archival and ethnographic study of resource extraction in West Africa through the frameworks of coloniality and racial capitalism.

All interested are welcome!