IV-5. Russian Studies on Africa in the Past and Present: People, Problems, Theories, Perspectives

Conveners: Apollon B. Davidson (National Research University – Higher School of Economics, Moscow, Russia), Anatoly D. Savateev (Institute for African Studies, Moscow, Russia); e-mail: asavat@mail.ru

Every science acquires full consciousness of its role and importance in the professional research community and only then it is able to present its own stories – successes and setbacks. Our science took shape in the twentieth century, was born in the depths of Oriental studies long before the decision of state bodies on creation of the first sector of Africa within the framework of the Institute of Ethnography of the USSR, and then in the form of an independent Institute for African studies of the USSR Academy of Sciences in 1959. The period before the emergence of these institutional bodies seems to be terra incognitа to many Africanists, a time when Africa was allegedly outside the purview of Russian scholars. Meanwhile, as shown by surveys of the Center for African Studies of IOS RAS, the contacts of Russia and Russian subjects with Africans started long before Peter The Great, and in the end of XVIII century scattered information about the continent was already received. But essentially, the story of the African studies in Russia/USSR writes this Center only. Essential part of African studies are the scientists themselves, their discoveries and fortunes in the diversity of life and scientific twists and turns. Having experienced the enthusiasm of the Marxist materialist theory, ideas of class struggle as driving force of the historical process, the Soviet/Russian Africanists understood the need to update the methodology of their research. Different conceptual approaches became available not only due to Western science, but the results of the upheavals in the Eastern world, particularly the Islamic revolution in Iran in 1979. Then began a period of domination of the civilization theory, world-system approach was developed and other, mostly Western concepts of social and political development were widely used. Revealing new ways of thinking about African realities, these concepts are simultaneously split in the ranks of the Orientalists and Africanists, inadvertently dividing them into supporters of one or another theory of historical and political development. Strong is the contradiction among the researchers about understanding what are the African studies, and what should not draw their attention. Such contradictions in a professional environment in the current period of sequestration spending significantly weaken the position of African studies as an expert of the science, reduce the authority of the community of Africanists, creating the pretext for a sharp reduction and spending cuts for research in African theme. Consequently, Russian African studies have a chance to survive only if:
a) most creative research approaches that take into account diverse characteristics of African peoples and of civilizations would be chosen;
b) Africanists would consolidate as a professional research community, leaving the theoretical and organizational differences aside;
c) the practice of regular scientific conferences of Africanists would be restored (for example, Readings in memory of Dmitri Olderogge and other mandatory meetings of fellows of the Association of Russian Africanists);
d) it would be considered necessary to consolidate the forces of the Africanists to study current problems and developments that emerged in the last quarter of a century in Africa and Asia and have changed geopolitical and geocivilizational shape of the continents; in the light of these pressing realities at the forefront should be nominated major projects proposed by the management of the Institutions of African and Oriental studies, and these projects should be addressed to experts in the field of civilizational theory, historians, economists, philologists, etc.
All the outlined problems of methodology, the balance of economic and socio-cultural approaches, inclusion of new research methods that emerged in the Soviet period and aggravated in recent years should draw the attention of Africanists interested in the preservation of traditions and development of their own scientific field. The discussion of these issues will be the topic of the proposed section.