Retelling the past: There is a growing tendency to discount knowledge about the past, with archaeology and historicized ways of thinking seen as an unaffordable luxury irrelevant to an African future. At the same time, historical narratives and knowledge play an ever more potent role in discussions about national cohesion, and in debates and litigation over land rights, citizenship and the politics of culture and heritage. Opportunity also comes from wider debates over the nature of scholarship and decolonisation of knowledge. Challenge and opportunity are linked, and the past – whether deep, or recent – must be revisited and retold from new perspectives. Archaeology, ethnography, anthropology, history and a host of complementary disciplines can be used to retell the past.
Changing environments: Climate change, bio-diversity loss, urbanisation, large infrastructure projects and technological innovations all impact the environments in which people live in ways that are having, and have long had, profound demographic, socioeconomic, cultural and political effects. It is critical that these changes – including their histories, their varied and complex impacts, the challenges and opportunities that they throw up, how these changes are conceptualised, negotiated, understood and represented, and the varied responses of governments, ordinary citizens and other stakeholders (including cultural actors) – are studied so as to better understand the past, present and possible futures.
Urban lives: Often seen simply as problematic, urbanisation is also a driver of creativity and innovation – from music-making and art to political mobilisation and mobile banking. This theme encourages research that explores and questions peoples’ imaginations, negotiations and everyday realities of urban life today and/or in the past.
Technologies of politics: Africa’s ‘digital revolution’ creates new realities, and provokes fresh thinking, on how power is mobilised, organised and exercised. Social movements, street protests, democratic elections, state authority and economic innovation are enabled and constrained in different ways as communication technologies, new and old, are innovated, imported, adapted and controlled. The BIEA brings its commitment to empirically grounded and multi-disciplinary local scholarship to promote research that builds worldclass knowledge on the digital age in and from the region.
Next generations: Across the region the idea of who constitutes the youth commonly extends to people in their 30s. This theme looks at the lived experiences, concerns, identities and strategies of the current youth, as well as at the changing and possible educational, socio-economic, employment, cultural, political, and environmental contexts which will help to shape the lives of future generations.
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.