Epidemics, pandemics and epizootics: COVID-19 and varied government responses, popular responses and narratives, and cultural, socio-economic, and political impacts, have provided a stark reminder of how diseases help to make history, but also how they help to bring various social relations and realities into the spotlight. This theme encourages research that looks at both of these aspects – namely, on the impacts of, and insights provided by, disease – in the context of COVID-19 or earlier epidemics, pandemics and epizootics in the region.
Citizens and science: at a time when big science approaches are increasingly being presented as solutions, we seek to encourage research that looks at heterodox and local forms of knowledge, and that seizes the opportunities provided by new technologies without surrendering an awareness of the importance of qualitative work, and of understanding values and perceptions as well as gathering numerical data.
Knowing environments: this theme explores and celebrates multiple, often heterodox forms of environmental knowledge and knowledge production. Representations, communities of practice, perceptions, and forms of incorporated memory important ways of knowing environments. There also exist more systematized forms of environmental knowledge production centred on empirical signatures of environmental conditions. Additionally, environments themselves are ‘knowing’ in terms of their enabling and responsive capacities.
Technologies of politics: Africa’s ‘digital revolution’ provokes fresh thinking on how power is mobilised, organised and exercised in eastern Africa. Social movements, street protests, democratic elections and state authority are being enabled and constrained in different ways as communication technologies, new and old, are innovated, imported, adapted and controlled. How are new communication technologies altering who has political power over whom in the region? What role are technologies playing in contemporary and evolving relations between social movements and states? What new global configurations of power in the region are emerging as a result of who controls the infrastructures of a digitally mediated world? The BIEA brings its commitment to empirically grounded and multi-disciplinary local scholarship to promote research that builds world-class knowledge on the digital age in and from the region.
Urban lives: Africa’s urban spaces are growing and changing. Often seen simply as problematic, this growth and change is also a driver of creativity and innovation. Cultural production of multiple kinds thrives in these spaces; such production, like much of everyday life, simultaneously works with and calls into question ideas of rural/urban difference and transformation. Lives span the imaginary between town and country; creative and accumulative strategies turn this imaginary to productive use, in ways that stretch from music-making to mobile banking. This theme encourages research that explores and questions imaginations of city life, and asks how people use these in multiple ways.
Retelling the past: The study of eastern African’s past faces a moment of challenge and opportunity. Challenge comes from a growing tendency in governments in the region to discount knowledge about the past and historicized ways of thinking. In institutions of higher education, the assumption that history is an unaffordable luxury, or is irrelevant to an African future – or both – has become established. Yet at the same time, historical narratives and knowledge play an ever more potent role in litigation and debates over land rights, citizenship and the politics of culture and heritage; the disconnect between official disregard and popular history-making is increasingly profound. At the same time, opportunity comes from a moment of wider debate over the very nature of scholarship: the decolonizing of knowledge has become a pressing concern. Challenge and opportunity are linked: the past – whether deep, or recent – must be revisited and retold from new perspectives. The BIEA will facilitate and promote that process, without seeking to dominate it, through pilot projects of partnership that encourage new representations of the region’s past.