African American Studies 24, Section 1

Language and Politics in Southern Africa (1 unit, P/NP)

Professor Sam Mchombo
Wednesday 12:00-1:00, 190 Social Sciences Building, Class number: 30419

The seminar will focus on political developments in Southern Africa and the use of language in fostering national identity and attaining cultural emancipation. We will look at case studies representative of the dynamics of the region. The topics covered will include a brief history of the peoples of Southern Africa; family structure, kinship systems and traditional political institutions; cultural practices and religious beliefs; the impact of contact with western culture and civilization on language issues and political organization; language and its role in fostering national identity in post-independence Africa.

The major focus of the seminar will be on the ongoing efforts in African education to decolonize curriculum and integrate African languages as medium of instruction as well as the use of African languages in science and technology. This is a consequence of the fact that formal education in Africa was instrumental in the colonization of large parts of the globe by European colonial powers. The curriculum in African education has, traditionally, comprised Western assumptions about knowledge and the world that underpin it. While its form may have varied according to context, in all its aspects---curriculum, organization and ethos—colonial schooling was designed primarily to serve the interests of the colonizing powers. It was grounded in power institutions articulated from ideological positions, obtaining legitimacy from the social position occupied by the definer. Colonial discourse or Eurocentric education represented a configuration of ‘power/knowledge’ par excellence. Its content, language, and conceptions of knowledge were not simply unreflectively European, but also dismissive of indigenous culture, languages, knowledge, and traditions of upbringing and education. The issue of the relevance of African education to African societies continues to engage scholars, policy makers.

As a seminar, students will be expected to participate actively in the class. There will be reading material provided for relevant topics. There will be no examinations. Assessment will be based on one 500-word paper and class participation.

Instructor Bio

Sam Mchombo, Associate Professor in the Department of African American Studies, received his B.A. from the University of Malawi and Ph.D. from the University of London. He pioneered, and was Chair of, the Department of African Languages and Linguistics at the University of Malawi. From 1985-1988 he was a member of the Linguistics faculty at San José State University. He has been on the faculty of Berkeley since 1988. His research focuses on grammatical theory and African linguistic structure. He has also conducted research into African politics, delivered a talk at the World Affairs Council on emergent democracies, as well as human rights in Africa. His publications include Theoretical Aspects of Bantu Grammar (1993) (editor), The syntax of Chichewa (Cambridge University Press, 2004), "Democratization in Malawi: Its Roots and Prospects," published in a volume edited by Jean-Germain Gros called Democratization in Late Twentieth-Century Africa, Greenwood Press 1998. Other publications include "National Identity, Democracy and the Politics of Language in Malawi and Tanzania," as well as "The Role of the Media in Fostering Democracy in Southern Africa," both published in The Journal of African Policy Studies; "Religion and Politics in Malawi" in Issues in Political Discourse Analysis (2005); "Sports and Development in Malawi" in Soccer and Society Vol. 7 No. 2-3, 2006; “Language, Learning and Education for All in Africa,” in a book edited by Zehlia Babaci-Wilhite called Giving Space to African Voices, Sense Publishers 2014; “Language, Scientific Knowledge, and the “Context of Learning” in African Education,” in a volume edited by Zehlia Babaci-Wilhite called Human Rights in Language and STEM Education, Sense Publishers 2016; Politics of Language Choice in African Education: The Case of Kenya and Malawi, in International Relations and Diplomacy Volume 5, Number 4, April 2017. In press is his paper called “Decolonizing African Linguistics: Revisiting the Paradigm from Bantu Perspective.” For some years he was appointed honorary professor for African linguistics and Swahili in the African Studies Program at Hong Kong University, and as a visiting professor of African linguistics at the University of Sonora in Mexico. He has delivered conference presentations in those countries, in Africa and Europe. In Spring 2003, he was appointed Distinguished African Scholar by the Institute for African Development at Cornell University.

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