Institute for Anthropological Research in Africa

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The Institute for Anthropological Research on Africa (IARA) is committed to anthropological research in and on Africa. It therefore favours participatory and sited research (fieldwork), qualitative case-studies and contemporary historiography to shed an anthropological light on the social and political challenges facing Africans today.

A first range of topics refers to the way people make and unmake their social and moral worlds, how they shape and interpret experiences or how they deal with disorder, upheaval, misfortune, affliction and distress. This field relates to body symbolism, to social memory and enacted meaning, forms of sociality and (re)production, religions, ideologies and worldviews, to specific forms of knowledge and notions of time and space. These surface, for example, in witchcraft, the factuality of medical pluralism, or in divination, in social discourse on modernity or in the many Pentecostal or independent churches that offer an alternative Christianity, or in the way the other -both in Europe and Africa- is imagined and represented.

A second field implies how people shape their political landscapes (and how they are shaped by them), and focuses explicitly on (the history and conflicting experience of) colonisation and globalization, on conflict, violence and trauma. It deals with newly emerging -often tensional- notions of self and identity, asks the question how people relate to the (postcolonial) state and to the trans-national arena, and scrutinises new and older forms of power, authority and (counter)hegemony. But it also investigates local counterworks that implicitly or explicitly seek to address structural imbalances, offer a new moral and ethical framework for social and political action, and reinterpret or re-work the heritage of colonialism and the workings of the nation-state.

A third track concentrates on things material. It concerns itself with the way local communities invent (or make new use of) and explore new technologies, especially in the fields of leisure and communication. It focuses on the social life of things and on things as agents and vehicles of social change, how they organise peoples life and influence local histories, on processes such as commodification, or on the so-called informal economy. This field also relates to the cultural ecology of landscapes both rural and urban, and to the relationship between people and their environment.

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