Afronography

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Afronography is a method of recording and writing the African experience from an Afrocentric perspective. As a method of ascertaining the condition or state of an event, person, or text related to African people, Afronography projects both an ethical and an evaluative dimension. In its ethical dimension, it is concerned with the nature of what is in the best interest of the African community specifically and the world community generally. The evaluative dimension allows the Afronographer to discern the usefulness of an event, person, or text in the search for truth. In both dimensions, Afronography seeks to understand the characteristics that accompany certain positions, hence, positionalities. The idea is that all positions carry with them certain obvious and not so obvious characteristics that allow a viewer, reader, locator to determine the extent of the influence of those characteristics on the position. In one sense this is a utilitarian function. Utility in an epistemological sense is related to the character of the proof discovered in the qualitative environment.
Establishing the nature and extent of social, critical, and cultural positionalities by employing such terms as dislocations, distortions, simplifications, blurs, distances, omissions, and misidentifications within the context of ethics and evaluation creates opportunities for stating more clearly and precisely the role of Africans in a given situation. Each movement away from Afrocentricity is considered a way of being out of location, and the Afronographer grapples with this in the writing of any particular experience.
Afronography seeks to determine what it is to know something. There are four approaches used by Afronography: historical, experiential, textual, and social. The aim of these approaches is to engage phenomena in such a way that it becomes possible to determine the location of the agent, creator, operator, or subject. Thus, examples from history, science, art, and various other disciplines compete to mark the location of a phenomenon.
Among the questions being raised by Afronography are what forms of legitimation are necessary for this new method of viewing reality and what the nature is of any legitimacy that does not privilege the people who are being studied. Thus the questions naturally arise as to how to expand the work being done by Afronographers gratis, and what types of institutional structures would ensure the legitimation of this perspective. Clearly the established institutional fields do not support granting legitimacy to a methodological form that questions their lack of diversity. What then is the task of the Afronographer? The Afronographer says that it is to demonstrate that the African narrative can be understood within the context of any given situation so long as the African is not deprivileged as subject.
The Afronographer seeks to discover, argue, analyze, prove, challenge, describe, justify, or clarify some situation. This is done within the context of seeking what is true, describing human actions and products, and being respectful of all human situations. Respect is demonstrated in the Afronographer's accurate depictions, direct quotations, and highlighting contradictions. In Afronography, all analysis is based on the idea that explicit abstraction and generalization of data should concentrate on the issue of location. As the Afronographer is interested in understanding the role of the analyzed, the goal of Afronographic analysis is not antihumanist as it is in most purely statistical analyses (which seek to establish reliable frequencies and generalize from them to predict behavior).
Afronography is important because of the value it places on knowing. It is a method that seeks to dispel myths, construct valid identity, and readjust typification. Inasmuch as the myths and stereotypes surrounding African positionalities have been negative and have sustained the marginality of African people, Afronography, using a centered perspective on situations, seeks to recenter the discussion about African people by allowing for the subject place of Africans to reveal all varieties of opinions. Afronography is therefore not a system designed to replace Eurocentric analysis for the sake of replacement, but rather, a method that seeks to elicit the positionalities, ideas, themes, and information that have always escaped Eurocentric analysis in which Africans are marginalized. Thus the aim is for scholars to have better judgment by using methods that include face-to-face approaches, total awareness, surrogacy, and empathy to arrive at conclusions. The value of surrogacy is in its nonreflectivity, its immediacy, and its reality. If the researcher cannot know all Jamaicans, what should he or she do to learn something about Jamaicans? Of course, the first thing the researcher should do is to look for reasonable stand-ins or surrogates for all Jamaicans, such as individual Jamaican filmmakers, novelists, reporters, tourists, and so forth. What Afronography allows the researcher to do is to discover in time, place, religion, environment, myths, taboos, customs, habits, and behaviors a measure of what is true, from the standpoint of the African as subject, in a given situation. Ultimately, this is the value of Afronography.

Qualitative Methods and Orientation in Afronography

In many ways, Afronography is akin to what in sociology is called ethnography or case studies, but Afronography begins from a different place and has objectives that are often at variance with those of ethnography. While ethnography was developed as a Eurocentric way of acquiring information about people other than Europeans, Afronography is a method of gaining access to information about Africans from the standpoint of African culture itself. This trend in scholarship must be seen as research in its proper context, where researchers have a reasonable handle on the issues confronting students in the discipline of Africology.
A key factor in being a researcher in the contemporary world has do with appreciating the centrality of human agency. No researcher understands this more than the adequately trained Africological researcher who seeks to explore the best ways to know something and then to be able to explain what he or she knows. The Africologist, however, wants to know about things from the standpoint of Africans as agents. This means that all things are not within the purview of the Afronographer, just as the economist does not seek to apply her methods to physics. Using Afronography, the Africologist wants to be able to discover, through direct methods over a period of time, some particular answers to human problems. The aim of Afronography has to be to cope with the persistent distortion of the African presence in the world.
There are always more possibilities, potentialities, and problems of agency than researchers expect. However, it is by directly knowing some of the issues that researchers are able to properly explain them. A researcher might ask, is there an illusion of conscious will? The answer to this question throws light on the question of what it is a person actually does when that person does something. All action is created by the mind, and will itself is a creation of the mind. Thus it is difficult to speak of anything other than the feeling of free will. What constitutes agency on the part of a researcher? Is it the actual conscious will to do something or the process of doing it? Whatever answers to these questions the research discovers, it is clear that the Afrocentrist working in Africology must be attuned to finding ways to make sense out of unexamined types, stereotypes, and repetitive actions and forms in ordinary life.

The Most Radical Empiricism

The Afrocentrist accepts personal knowledge as the most radical form of knowing. Personal knowledge is divided into two parts: (1) intense self-knowledge and (2) outside knowledge. In the first instance, people are interested in what they know about themselves. This is usually seen as identity types of knowledge, that is, who people are in terms of their origin, birth, education, parents, domicility, and culture. Outside knowledge refers to what people know when they are face to face with objects, events, and other people. This is the purview of Afronography.
In the contemporary world, it is necessary for people to know about much more than themselves. People's personal knowledge must include information about those they cannot possibly get to know and events that they will not be able to see, thus Afrocentrists must create ways to approach this quandary. Afrocentrists do this by establishing a methodology that has nonreflectivity and immediacy. Afronography helps researchers to make sense out of the complex, multilevel, urban and rural environments where human interactions occur in a heterogeneous nation where African people have historically been marginalized. It is one of the ways that humans can reorient knowledge and create conditions for effective human interactions within the context of heterogeneity.
To be an Afronographer, then, is to be aware of the multifaceted nature of human existence in the world, not merely the existence of mind, or social institutions, or economic processes. But since any researcher is really only one individual who neither can be in every place nor represent every human condition, researchers must depend upon reasonable surrogates for their radical empiricism. The value of knowing is that it dispels myths, helps to construct valid identity, readjusts types, and helps people to make better decisions. In the final analysis, real (i.e., concrete) usable knowledge helps with face-to-face, empathic, holistic, and surrogate consciousness.

References

Keywords

  • Afronography
  • positionality
  • African people
  • surrogacy
  • ethnography
  • legitimation
  • standpoint

Author(s)

Further Reading

  • Alkalimat, Abdul (Ed.). (1990). Paradigms in Black Studies: Intellectual History, Cultural Meaning and Political Ideology. Chicago: Twenty-First Century Books. This book, which clarifies theoretical issues in Black Studies research, contains the contributions of several leading Marxist scholars to the discussion of the fundamental problems of method.
  • Asante, Molefi Kete. (1990). Kemet, Afrocentricity and Knowledge. Trenton, NJ: Africa World Press. This was the first book to establish the methodological ideals for researchers.
  • Asante, Molefi Kete. (1998). The Afrocentric Idea. Philadelphia: Temple University Press. This is a key theoretical work in the field of Afrocentricity. Used by numerous scholars to examine the critical dimensions of texts, situations, and phenomena, this work is especially useful to researchers.
  • Mazama, Ama (Ed.). (2003). The Afrocentric Paradigm. Trenton, NJ: Africa World Press. Mazama's book extends the Afrocentric methodology by organizing essays that speak to the need to interpret and explain from an Afrocentric perspective.