Please join us for a seminar on Wednesday, June 06, 2018, by Dr Benedetta Lanfranchi, a Research Fellow at MISR.
TITLE: Thinking Through Notions of Philosophical Fieldwork
Abstract: The relationship between ethnography and philosophy has been a contentious issue in the delineation of African Philosophy as an academic discipline since the 1960s, when a number of prominent African intellectuals – such as Paulin Hountondji, Odera Oruka, Kwasi Wiredu, Kwame Gyekye, D.A. Masolo and others – strongly denounced what they considered a second-class philosophical discourse for Africa which they labeled “ethnophilosophy”. These intellectuals felt that an ethnographic approach to African Philosophy not only maintained the colonial trend of excluding African intellectual discourses and traditions from accounts of African life worlds, but also continued to presuppose an undesirable difference – or double standard – between African and Western philosophy, which is historically understood as a tradition of (mostly written) thoughts expounded by individual philosophers. In this paper I argue that by drawing on the methodological challenges raised by African intellectuals engaged in the debate on the nature, sources and history of African Philosophy from the 1960s to the present day, we are led to critically re-engage and recast the definition of philosophy that has emerged in the Western tradition, whose historical equation with philosophy tout court has only recently become subjected to academic scrutiny. The African philosophy debate is thus here seen as laying the grounds for rethinking the discipline of philosophy at a global level and re-posing the questions of what it means to philosophize and who is the philosopher. One of the greatest contributions to the debate from African Philosophy is the role of orality and community in philosophical knowledge production, two categories that have traditionally become excluded from the Western philosophical canon while theorized instead by some African philosophers as pillars of African knowledge systems on which philosophy is grounded. This paper explores the important claims made by African philosophers in this regard and re-engages with the question on the role and significance of “fieldwork” for a theoretical discipline such as philosophy, also by exploring the question in dialogue with Italian political activist and thinker Antonio Gramsci’s reflections on philosophy.