University of Western Australia
Few would take issue with the idea that the sciences have had a very great influence with regard to Society's big choices. And so, the relationship between the 'hard' sciences and the social sciences is one worthy of, even demanding, discussion. This issue of Mots Pluriels explores this problematic and proposes fifteen articles by academics from various disciplines who have reacted to a lead article by Professor , an eminent scholar and novelist, who initiated the debate. Thanks are due to Professor Dongala and to all those colleagues whose considered thoughts have contributed to this exchange.
Since the attainment of Independence in the 1960s, numerous African elites and intellectuals have attempted to make sense of post-colonial reality. In this process, Mudimbé, Boulaga, Obenga, Essome, Ewane, Bilolo, Diakité Mubabinge, Towa, Hountondji, Njoh-Mouelle, Traoré, Diouf, Mfounou, Tévoédjrè and a great many other African Scholars have endeavoured to liberate the Social Sciences from the shackles of Western discourse by proposing alternative approaches. However, dreams have not been fulfilled, the Continent is adrift, seemingly endlessly, and both sciences and technology have failed Africa. Thus, the impression that Social Sciences are in a state of torpor does not reflect a lack of an alternative or the absence of a discursive conscience that would allow the framing of a new vision of African people by themselves; rather, it reflects the profound disenchantment from, and disillusionment with, the chimerical visions of the world proposed by Western materialism, modernity, technology and lack of humanity. "Even if we keep saying that we would like to be like them, and live like them, and adopt their values in the concert of a mondialized world, even if we continue to desert our countries to settle on their shores", Kä Mana says, "we feel at heart that the Occident does not have much to offer us any more and that it is time to break free and to embark on our own journey, to turn the page and to embrace all the possibilities offered by a post-colonial, post-occidental and post-capitalist world".
s/Science is not "ideology free", in spite its professed neutrality and amorality. Scientific theories and practices, moreover, are never directly transferable and they have to account somehow for the local needs and cultural parameters. Thus the importance of the idea of metissage that could provide a way of reclaiming local knowledge and it's relationship to the notion of globalisation. A claim that would emphasise trans-cultural subjectivities rather than the establishment of a new hegemonic world order as imagined and imposed by the USA and its surrogate agents. Indeed, Senghor's message of metissage shows that globalisation is hardly a new or recent phenomenon, but rather a long and complex process of interaction between nations and states. A critical examination of the concepts of 'globalisation', 'democracy', 'modernity' and 'modernisation', to highlight but a few of the terms used by Emmanuel Dongala in his essay, should be at the very core of any analysis of the political, cultural and social situations in contemporary Africa. That must be the most important contribution on the part of the social sciences. But great ideas need a nurturing environment in which to thrive and any meaningful debate on s/Science or development in Africa is tied to a vision of modernisation and modernity defined as full access to water, electricity, education and health-care for all people who live in the various political and spatial units we have come to know as Africa. It is also important to recognise that modernity is dissonant and does not mean all things to all parts of the Continent, least of all joining blindly in the MacDonaldization of the world. The issue is not to decide to what extent "universalism" does or does not represent a "universal" notion, but to look for inspiration from concrete examples of cultural, political, religious and economic syncretism, 'Great ideas', 'great themes' regularly and rewardingly flow between cultures, places, historical periods, whereas the quest for 'authentic' theoretical or critical tools risks becoming yet another distraction.
How can one find any reason to hope when the future is reduced to the necessity of attending to the pressing needs of the moment and that tomorrow does not exist? How to manage the easiest of any tasks in a chaotic universe? The power to change and transform, to which Africa aspires, evades sciences as much as the intellectuals and the elites who modernise without modernity. It is located at the level of individual intervention of all those who do what they can do, change what they can change and transform what they can transform, with the ideal of human dignity in mind. The power to change things belongs to men and women who are educated rather than well-read; that is those individuals who feel a responsibility to their community and are aware of their own role. The practical significance of this self-awareness remains uncertain however, as myriads of destructive forces are set on harming the person who attempts to stray from state orthodoxy; countless fences and borders lie in the way of those who attempt to escape the machinations of the despot of the day. Just to stay alive becomes an achievement and to state alternative thoughts an impossibility. Africa's meagre impact on the domain of scientific knowledge and her acceptance of Western orthodoxy is due in part to this prevalence of a permanent situation of crisis. However, it is doubtful that a more substantial African contribution to Western scholarship would have bettered her condition and automatically allowed her to express her inner-self which is the very resource that gives grounds for hope today. In any case, it is time to recognise that the concept of science, like that of culture, is diverse and to propose new approaches that allow African wisdom to blossom outside a reductive Western Cartesianism. It is time to embrace new paradigms that break away from this view of the world: one dominated by dubious political games, the cult of accumulation, and a variety of tricks aimed at justifying the criminal behaviour of the lout who, with our duplicity, intends ruling the world
Geography proposes an investigation of the spaces occupied by society and takes "terrain" as it's validating reference. Like all other sciences, "hard" or "soft", it has asserted its own aims and research paradigms, but more importantly it offers an original grid to analyse Africa's problems and the relationship between hard and social sciences; a relationship that shows their complexity and complementarity as well as the fundamental interaction between nature and culture, mind and body. Identity is always complex, plural, evolutive and relational and any attempt to isolate society - or the disciplines that aim to understand them - in discrete, unrelated and self-contained universes falsifies the results of decades of scientific scholarship that shows that frontiers are indeed points of contacts, exchanges and inter-cultural encounters as much as dividing features. Everyone agrees that science in itself in not capable of solving humanity's problems, but scientific methodologies can help to clarify a number issues and to dispel a number of stereotyped ideas. The divide between the science of nature and the science of society inherited by academic disciplines from the 19th Century is no longer operative and the power of econometry has been over-valued. For example, how could it shed any light on issue such as the collective well-being of a society, the value of speech or African solidarity? New ways of thinking are required and alternative forms of inquiry are now coming to the fore, often more inductive, always more complex; current scholarship in the field of Geography bears witness to this evolution.
Science is not a thing or a branch of thought, but rather a particular way of thinking; science is not something of and for itself, but rather a tool that can sometimes help a curious mind to provide answers to questions arising in its fantasies. Thus the issue is not scientific methodology per se, but the way it is used - and often misused. Research in Economics is a case in point. A first-year student can see that the directives imposed by the International Monetary Fund [IMF] on 'Developing Countries' are contrary to economic wisdom, provided of courses that one assumes that those directives have the interest of developing countries at heart. It is not an elusive science, but the economists of the IMF who decide that African development does not mean a bettering of the African way of life but rather, an acceleration of the plundering of the continent by powerful multinationals that excerbates the destitution of the local people. Science is incapable of changing anything. Only people can do so if they have the will to act and contribute to a more equitable vision of an Africa where every African citizen is provided with adequate food, water, clothing, shelter, healthcare and education. We can set about making those dreams a reality. Copland suggests that science can be put to work for utopia as well as for oppression; not only for the IMF but also for a united Africa, democratic and free to pursue her own development in ways conducive to better conditions of life for all Africans. Sound theoretical analyses of the issue are readily available and it is not a practical sense of direction that is lacking, but rather the will to act.
Sciences and technology are in constant evolution. Either "exact" or "social", Sciences have been interdependent for centuries. It is their endless interaction that leads to the formulation of "truth", expressing the knowledge and endeavours of any given time before challenging this wisdom in exposing its limit, falsity and undesired effects on the next generation. The role of scientific research in Africa - but also in Europe - at the beginning of the third millennium is not very clear. It is difficult to perceive the quivering of new thoughts both in the North where the crises of the social sciences due to the passing of leading 20th Century intellectuals is lamented and in the South that is under the curse of a destructive "Afropessimism". Furthermore, it is not easy to escape the covert influence of "the Colonial library", its imagery and perception of Other that permeate both France and Africa. Nevertheless, one can perceive signs of a culture in the process of re-generation through good times and bad. Above and beyond the difficulty in figuring out what really happened in this time of gestation, a very active phase of development seems to be propelled by all kind of syncretisms and métissages. However, Coquery-Vidrovitch argues, any analysis of a situation should differentiate short-term appreciations and long- term possibilities. The current situation in Africa is the product of a long and heavy history in which internal and external factors intermingle, thus future directions demand an opening to the world, a criticcal evaluation of Western referentials, a re-definition of democratic ideals, an occasion for women to redefine their role in society and a revision of African research in Francophonie by placing the respect of Other at the top of its preoccupations.
The stakes of Africa's appropriation of Sciences lay above and beyond the dichotomy that separates the so-called hard and human sciences. Both should be united in fighting the same battle and provide the Continent with African scientists who roll up their sleeves and help African societies: Scientists who contribute to a satisfactory transformation of African people's environment at a practical level. The appropriation of Western knowledge by Africa, firstly through colonial schooling and more recently by way of tertiary education outside Africa has proven to be a major fraud. Far from opening news doors to Africans, Western education has reduced their power and self-esteem by forcing upon them a debilitating image of themselves ; it has universalised the myth of White superiority which is at the heart of all Euramerican social, economic and scientific endeavours. Today as much as in bygone days, the Euramerican coloniser sees himself as the centre of the world and continues relentlessly to canibalize the periphery to his own advantage. It is therefore urgent for African scholars to stand back from the education they have received, to raise their heads and to assert their own values. It is time for us, Kom says, to cast a critical eye on the representation of ourselves that Euramerica has inflicted upon us in forcing their views, their schools and their administration. The time has come for Africa to carefully and aggressively develop a subversive project of her own if she wants to be heard - and to dispose of Western hegemony.
In India, like in Africa, the colonial education system that introduced 'modern' thought was based on the assumption that the West was the source of all knowledge and it provided the norm in each discipline. Even in literature which had a rich heritage in India , the models began to be derived from Europe. The emergence of the 'novel' in the second half of the 19th Century is just one example. Long narratives existed in different forms in most Indian languages, but the new form called the 'novel' valorised the so- called realistic mode which was supposed to be the defining feature of the European novel. Other literary tools have been imported more recently and for decades Indian students have been studying Structuralism, Post-structuralism, Psychoanalysis, Deconstruction, Phenomenology, Semiotics and much else as keys for opening out texts to different kinds of readings. The validity of these tools across cultures remains to be explored, but the revival of old pre-colonial aesthetic theories does not offer realistic and progressive alternatives either. Privileging anything 'local' over the 'global' is also fraught with danger. Much of the West is already within us, Mukherjee says, and one may ask ,"Do we really have a choice in a world where all major decisions are market-oriented? How does the work of social scientists - however original and relevant - translate into social action?" India can boast outstanding scholars in sociology, economics and political sciences who have done a great deal of work based upon the on-the-ground realities of the country, but that vibrant intellectual life among certain sections of the society in India has not had much impact on the life of the common people.
Science can plausibly be regarded as a social system in which people try to observe phenomena and to solve problems (i.e., to produce knowledge) in socially acceptable ways, Schmidt says however, that these phenomena and problems do not exist independently. They are determined by the way the observer perceives and constructs them in the context of social constraints that are dissociated from human activities. Literary studies do not escape that rule and new methodologies allowing the systematic comparison of empirical literary research are needed. Inter-subjective evaluation is a must in an area where nothing in the field is 'natural' or 'self-evident'. What distinguishes the scientific method advocated from non scientific approaches is the former's explicitness of operation and its regulative parameters. In demanding an explicit theory, a conceptual strategy and explicit procedures for problem-solving which have proved their worth in past practice, scientific methodologies allow a community of investigators to embark on a meaningful evaluation of the proposed solutions to a given issue. Science demands from the researcher that he/she becomes the observer of his/her own discourse when he/she intends to observe or describe a given phenomena. The same distancing from his/her own discipline should be at the core of literary criticism that does not deal with a "natural object" called "literature", but, Schmidt says that it is the concern of socio-culturally conditioned problems of observers emerging from encounters with literary phenomena in special situations.
Africa remains an occupied territory and her problem is neither her relationship to science nor her aptitude for development, but by those people who squander her, she is seen as an appendix of the Western world and a drudge. The time for economic recovery and phoney structural adjustments is over and a return to the our origins is the only path towards our own history and identity, the only way to reconnect with our spiritual being. The future should be in a strong and united Africa , but as Obiang says, confronted by the picture of a continent more than ever divided, time has possibly come to concede defeat and to admit that Africa has come to the end of her tether: that she is possibly already dead. . Everybody has cleared off, or dreams of going and the Continent's destiny seems to be hanging on Europe. But rather than continuing to lament over Africa's misfortune, time has possibly come to confront the West by playing the part of the rebel through whom life asserts its will for change; time to show a determination to export to the West our values, our skills and our wisdom in order to block the current barbarism and decadence, becoming a symbol of the growing revolt against the dehumanising effects of capitalistic and market-driven Europe.
Two kinds of forces control discourse: external and internal. The irruption of the concept of the nation-state in 19th Century Africa provoked structural and communication upheavals which continued unabated throughout the 20th Century. Therefore, in order to understand the processes of adjustment that has unsettled the idea of cognition in Africa, to contextualise the homologous relationships between different modes of knowledge classifications and the nature of social interaction - and beyond these elements an understanding of power - it is imperative to deal with the structures and the various ways meanings have been categorised rather than to slave away at the history of content. Understanding these phenomena does not spring from a comparison of the intrinsic characteristics of subject-matters but from an awareness of the modes of creation of discursive objects, different in the North and in the South. African discourse that was articulated around the concepts of norm and rule was challenged by a Western apparatus that emphasised those of law and rights. The dichotomy between hard sciences and the social sciences in the context of Africa is no more than one of the discursive objects informed by the clash of diverging taxonomies.
The idea that scientific methodology finds its efficacy in dissociating its practice from any ethical concerns and in avoiding to integrate the subjectivity of the subject does not prove that the researcher applying such a methodology has more independence than another using a different research paradigm. Irrespective of their field, researchers always remained social agents who, by necessity, have to make existential and strategic choices. These choices determine the questions that one can ask and those that have to be excluded, they draw the contours of what is "thinkable" and what is not. Consequently, researchers in the so-called "hard" and social sciences are all in the same boat and their responsibilities are identical: the defence of life and human values. The social construction of reality progresses through ruptures and continuity. It is calling upon both an endogamous production of African modernity that expresses an endogenous social logic characterised by the primacy groups and parentage, and an exogenous logic characterised by the primacy of the individual. African scholars' reflections consist not so much in offering new paradigms but in using all the operative concepts at his/her disposal, old and new. Their role entails an evaluation of the endogenous production of modernity in Africa and the formulation of the basis upon which the commentators of political and democratic principles can evaluate the life experiences of individuals, redefine the principle of "wishing to live together" and re-engineer a tumultuous present; a present where public and political space is the product of a combination of individual, communal and familial spaces in which individual strategies mobilise the material and symbolic resources that are available.
In Africa where innumerable basic problems of survival have not been addressed, the function of both social and hard sciences is of a practical nature. Researchers, irrespective of their field, look for a means to better the population's living conditions with regard to access to drinking water, hygiene, education, etc. Thus, the opposition between the hard sciences and the Humanities is not located at the level of the value of their respective activities, but rather at the subjective perception of their power to offer a solution to the challenges of the future. Common wisdom suggests that "the future belongs to Sciences whereas the humanities is failing to provide any relevant solution to current and forthcoming problems". This blind trust conceded by many an African Government to the Sciences, and the exclusion of the Humanities, has had many adverse after-effects that have impacted everyone, women in particular. The first negative effect has been to marginalise the fields of study most attractive to women, such as the Arts, and to devalue their prestige. Conjointly, many young people were pressured to give up their real interest in order to study Sciences but, with no work available, all these young graduates simply contribute to an explosion of unemployment and social problems. In the face of this major failure, too much has been made, by the Africans themselves, of the success of a handful of women; such minority successes have been blown out of proportion in order to salve the government conscience while overlooking that, in "Modern Africa", traditions and daily practice still give legitimacy to the inequality suffered by women. Come to that, African women bear some of the responsibility in so far as those fortunate enough to pursue their studies forget all too readily the needs and aspirations of their sisters left in the country and take advantage of "modernisation" to feather their own nests.To call upon Science in order to modernise the economy is useless if such an approach is not guided by a spirit of solidarity and does not lead to the eradication of the injustices and inequalities that plague men; yes, but in even greater numbers, women.
The colonisation of India by the West has led to a slow depreciation of traditional knowledge (e.g., Ayurveda, Unani, Siddha medicines) and to the marginalisation of indigenous philosophies based on an holistic view of the world: non-violence, kinship with and respect for all forms of life (plants, animals and human). The idea that the purpose of science is to enhance the intellect in one's search of wisdom is replaced by the belief that science could be used for material purposes and for triumphing over Nature. The irruption of a British type of Western education in India some two centuries ago marks the beginning of this shift toward a new perception of science. Intellectuals and influential figures such as Gandhi, Jinnah, Sennannayake, Nehru and many others were products, in part, of the British educational system and were opened up to the notion of the utilitarianism of the sciences. However, they also retained a strong grasp and appreciation of the values and traditions of the East and did not seem to have suffered from any "existential angst". Nevertheless, much was lost to reductionist science in the name of improving national development, particularly in food production, in reducing mortality and increasing longevity. Added to this was the lure to the young of being "modern" or "with it" and the anxiety of the bureaucracy to "deliver", factors which have led to their ignoring or refusing to analyse whatever is appropriate or useful in tradition. Modernisation of India was ushered in, but not what Dongala has termed modernity and a synthetic approach to old and new is still wanting. Today, India is again in transition . It is going through a grand sociological experiment. Science and technology are being used to improve the quality of the life of its billion people. And the people have taken to these with enthusiasm. Only time will tell if the social experimentation that is taking place in India today will transform the dream of a better life for all into a reality.
Now is not the time to return to the well-worn issues that keep coming up since the time of Independence. Rather, it is a time to propose an original intellectual project likely to offer today's youth a means to develop sharp critical minds, to manage their knowledge, to act with a well-defined sense of purpose and to establish strong roots within their society, culture and history, without losing touch with the wider world. At a time of inter-disciplinarity, to discuss the primacy of one discipline over another leads, at best, to re-hashing old dichotomies. The real problem facing us today has its origin in the discrepancy between the concrete needs of the population and the imaginary value bestowed on university degrees by African elites. African scholars often lack confidence in they own worth and are susceptible to being drawn into unproductive activities (seminars, erudite articles, byzantine discussions or armchair reconstructions of the world). Africa should reclaim ownership of her language, her cultures and the independence of her discourse. That's enough of pointless and phoney controversies that prevent us from dealing with the real issues. They are unwarranted luxuries we cannot afford. It is time to offer Africa, in "Mots Pluriels" as well as elsewhere, the useful and relevant information desperately needed on the Continent.
|Jean-Marie Volet is a Research Fellow at the University of Western Australia in Perth. He divides his time between his research on reading, Mots Pluriels and maintenance of the website Lire les femmes écrivains et la littérature africaine francophone. Among his later publications are : "Peut-on échapper à son sexe et à ses origines? Le lecteur africain, australien et européen face au texte littéraire", Nottingham French Studies 40-1, (2001), pp. 3-12 "Du Palais de Foumbam au Village Ki-Yi : l'idée de spectacle total chez Rabiatou Njoya et Werewere Liking", Ouvres et Critiques XXVI-1, (2001), pp.29-37 "Francophone women writing in 1998-1999 and beyond : A literary feast in a violent world", Research in African Literatures 32-4, (2001), pp. 187-200 "La littérature du SIDA : Genèse d'un corpus", (co-authored with H. Jaccomard and P. Winn), The French Review 75-3, (2002). pp. 528-530 and, Imaginer la réalité : Huit études sur la lecture des écrivaines africaines, (in press).|