Notes on researching Africa

Nic Cheeseman, Carl Death, Lindsay Whitfield
2017 African Affairs  
THE RESEARCH METHODS USED TO STUDY AFRICA have changed radically over the last thirty years. In the 1970s, the vast majority of historical, political, and anthropological work on the continent was predominantly qualitative. Whilst theoretical influences were diverse, and reflected contemporary debates between liberals and realists, Marxists and pan-Africanists, much work in African studies was primarily empirical and mainly relied on archival, interview or directly observed material. Although
more » ... ere are some important exceptions, the majority of articles and books that were published and cited in these areas focussed on explaining one or two cases in depth on the basis of a long period of fieldwork. There are a number of reasons for this. The absence of quantitative analysis was not always out of choice but rather necessity: comparative data was limited in quantity and low in quality so Africanists were forced to collect their own. This was a lengthy and laborious process, and combined with limitations in the scope of the secondary literature, tended to make researching more than one or two countries logistically unfeasible. There has also been an element of impatience toward lengthy theoretical debates in some branches of African studies, with direct engagement in 'the field' valued over armchair theorising, given the urgency of the political challenges to be faced. 1 In sum, as Nic Cheeseman has argued elsewhere, 'It would probably be exaggerating things a little to say that to be a good Africanist in the 1980s was to be a good fieldworker, but ... not by too much'. 2 Today, the way that Africa is studied is very different no matter what discipline we look at. Within Political Science, quantitative approaches have
doi:10.1093/afraf/adx005 fatcat:fve7mc6g2ffljcg3vtzfn2si2q