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Research Areas

IMAF’s six research areas, which have come out of a long period of consultation, state the laboratory’s research priorities and evince the abundance of themes on which our researchers and academics are working. All six have a single central focus: Africa and its diaspora communities. The overriding objective is to work together to increase and enhance knowledge of ancient and contemporary “African worlds”. Instead of being structured around more or less independent teams, these six are complementary research areas open for simultaneous study by various disciplines, in diverse fields and from different viewpoints. This fosters an ongoing dialog among researchers.

Research Area 1 — The creation and circulation of knowledge

The epistemological questions running through most of the studies conducted by members of our institute take on special importance in this first research area, which seeks to study the production and circulation of knowledge in and about Africa (on both sides of the Sahara) by exploring, in particular, the written and oral practices that have contributed to this knowledge.

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Research Area 2 — The long history of political economies and globalization in Africa

This research area places economic structures in the context of political history by drawing attention to the interactions between economics, politics and society in Africa down through history. Our intent is not to write an economic history as such but to study economic “objects” so as to improve our understanding African societies and politics. This research area has five main themes.

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Research Area 3 — Power, space, time and uses of the past

This research area deals with the question of power in terms of the mechanisms or processes whereby it circulates, perpetuates itself, changes and copes with challenges: the various of forms of consent, conflict, opposition or circumvention that accompany domination. The state and its exercise of power will not be overlooked, nor the undercurrents and fringes of politics. Starting from the postulate that power is always plural and relational, this research area focuses both on the most visible forms of power and authority and on the low-profile, hidden or infra-political forms (in which everyday power relations are played out and through which critical opinions and positions are shaped). These four themes focus on contemporary situations but while bearing constantly in mind their long history.

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Research Area 4 — Religious spaces: Genealogies, textualities, materialities

This research area spans the polysemy of religious movements in Africa: their political dimension (Islamic ideologies, nation-building by religions, etc.) as well as their expression through conflicts and violence, or through rites and texts, and their circulation and reconfiguration in the context of migrations.

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Research Area 5 — Art as a political object

Art produces politics and plays, therefore, a very real role in politics. This research area seeks to explain how art forms are created, operate and exert power. Covering a vast range of the visual and expressive arts, this research area points to the relevance of art for theorizing history and inquiring into political relations.

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Research Area 6 — Gender, bodies, subjectivities

This research area brings together historians, anthropologists, archeologists and political scientists for whom use the question of gender in African societies is a grid for interpreting the social sphere rather than as a research subject in its own right. This research examines how societies assign gender statuses and organize social relations between the sexes. It also studies how bodies are managed: the questions of individuation and forms of subjectivity.

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