Providing Nuanced, Yet Coherent Assessments? Challenges for Social Science Research
Julia Grauvogel, GIGA Institute of African Affairs
Panelists: Leonardo Arriola (UC Berkeley), Matthias Basedau (GIGA Institute of African Affairs), Ulf Engel (Leipzig University), Anke Hoeffler (University of Konstanz), Julia Leininger (German Development Institute)
African Studies have challenged simplifying perceptions about the continent by exploring multifaceted realities. Yet, there is also political demand for coherent assessments. The roundtable will discuss challenges for social science research on Africa in light of current trends and constraints.
The public image of sub-Saharan Africa is dominated by civil conflicts, corruption, poverty and diseases. Social science research on Africa has sought to challenge such oversimplifying perceptions by exploring multifaceted realities on the African continent. Current debates about “the return of thesingle-country study” (Pepinsky 2019) provide a fertile ground for advancing such nuanced micro perspectives. At the same time, scholars are often confronted with a (political) demand for coherent explanations of persisting political, social and economic challenges. This round table explores how social science research on Africa has developed in the context of such – diverging or even contradictory – stimuli. The participants will compare and contrast research on Africa in the German,
European and US context from these different perspectives. They will pay particular attention to the following questions: To what extent have scholars working on Africa challenged popular perceptions of the African continent? Can and should these differentiated assessments add up to a big picture? How have African Studies responded to and/or shaped current trends in the social sciences such as a renewed emphasis on case studies and a focus on causal inference? What are ethical implications of different approaches towards social science research on Africa? Which role do institutional
constrains and incentives play in shaping research on Africa?