Begun in 2012, the doctoral program in social studies at the Makerere Institute of Social Research (MISR) is driven by the conviction that key to research is formulating the problem of research. Given that our objective was to transform MISR from a consultancy into a research unit, we summed up the difference in a sentence: in a consultancy, the client defines the question; in a research unit, the question is the prerogative and responsibility of the researcher. We argued that an adequate formulation of the research problem requires a double endeavor: on the one hand, affirm grasp of key debates in the area of research, and on the other, a contextual and historical understanding of the research question.
The MISR Review signals a long-awaited step in the development of the program at MISR. It combines a commitment to local and indeed regional knowledge production, rooted in relevant linguistic and disciplinary training, with a critical and disciplined reflection on the globalization of modern forms of knowledge and modern instruments of power. Rather than oppose the local to the global, we seek to relate the two, assessing each from the vantage point of the other.
The MISR Review is intended to serve a dual function. First, it will broadcast the intellectual work undertaken at MISR, particularly by advanced doctoral students, to the wider scholarly community. Second, we aim for it to energize and promote debate in the broader scholarly community. By shining a historical and theoretical light on the contemporary, we hope the journal will play a role in the larger process of knowledge production.
We locate this endeavor in a particular conceptual and institutional understanding of the “university.” Many have argued that the “university” has multiple origins, in different parts of the world, including Cairo, Fez and Timbuktu in Africa. At the same time, the genealogy of the modern university, with its gated community, fee-paying students, and disciplinary organization of knowledge can be traced to a single starting point, the reorganization of the academy in late nineteenth-century Germany following its defeat by France. With the expansion of western power, this particular institutional form of the university has become global. Conceptually, the production of social sciences and the humanities in the modern academy bears an unmistakable imprint of western enlightenment with its self-conscious homage to a Greco-Roman legacy.
Higher education in the postcolonial world has a different genealogy, one rooted in the colonial experience. Knowledge housed in the university and transmitted from it is an unabashedly modernist project. Indeed, it is a top-down secular missionary project with ready-made solutions for a whole range of problems, known or not known. The colonial university is the original home of “one size fits all” remedies. Expect for the few who turned the colonial experience into a vaccine rather than a lifelong malady, students emerged from its doors with little capacity for creative thought. The character of Lawino, a peasant woman, lamented the fate of her university graduate husband in the song of Lawino, an epic poem by Okot p’Bitek:
Bile burns my inside!
I feel like vomiting!
For all our young men
Were finished in the forest
Their manhood was finished in the classroom
With large books!
Some critical thinkers like Yusufu Bala Usman have reflected on the epistemological conditions under which colonial and postcolonial university education has been imparted: conceptual categories are crafted from a particular historical experience and explain histories in other parts of the world, the ambition being to shape a common future for all. They proceed to point out the epistemological violence that must inevitably result from any self-conscious effort to universalize historically situated concepts that mine the rest of the world for raw data in order to verify or modify these so called universal categories.
What should be the response of the scholars around the world, including in Africa? Some have responded by turning to the precolonial modes of thinking in the contemporary world. These initiatives have given rise to a variety of tendencies ranging from the “modernist” to the “nativist.”
With the publication of The MISR Review, we join this eclectic endeavor, avowing neither a “ modernist” nor a “nativist” agenda. Our modest aim is to get the MISR scholarly community to engage with the contemporary and its historical antecedents from the standpoint of situating Africa in the world and understanding the world from an African vantage point. Our not-so-modest aim is to theorize the African experience with a view to underlining its particular as well as more general significance. To do so is to join the innovative work of creating categories, thereby giving meaning to our experience I the world and making possible an emancipatory practice, including theory-making, that can translate and communicate this experience to neighbors near and far.
Guidelines for contributors
The MISR Review welcomes two types of contributions:
First, submissions from doctorial students from within the African continent, based on primary research and an original theoretical engagement: second, think pieces from scholars around the world, inviting and initiating a critical discussion on the literature focused on a particular theme.
Submissions should be original contributions and not under consideration by any other publication.
Contributions should be limited to 10,000 words, but should in no case exceed 15,000.
Manuscripts should be submitted to the editors by email attachment in word format. All manuscripts and editorial correspondence should be addressed to the Editors, The MISR Review, firstname.lastname@example.org.