Contact Information

Concept Africa
Department of World Cultures
P.O. Box 59
Unioninkatu 38 B
00014 University of Helsinki

Team Members

Team in Helsinki May 2011

The team at the meeting in Helsinki in May, 2011

Pieter Boele van Hensbroek







Dr. Pieter Boele van Hensbroek

University of Groningen, Faculty of Philosophy & Globalisation Studies
Groningen, The Netherlands

p.boele [ at ]

“From Ancestral Land to the Fatherland; the concept of land in selected African discourses”

The study investigates in detail the key notions used in early nationalist discourses in West Africa when discussing issues of land, colonial usurpation of rights of ‘natives’, and elaboration of discourses of resistance in terms of fatherland, nation and national self-determination. These notions are then compared to African political discourses in the twentieth and early twenty-first century as far as these conceptualise land, nation and continent in order to ground African claims and identities. The study attempts to show the relevance of detailed conceptual histories for understanding the framing of historical political struggles, and, more broadly, the shaping of political imagination.

Inge Brinkman


Dr. Inge Brinkman

African Studies Centre, Leiden, The Netherlands

IBrinkman [ at ]

A range of concepts is gathering momentum in recent times: 'information', 'communication', 'knowledge' are often-used terms around 'the globe'. It remains to be seen how such concepts were used in the past and by people whose access to globalisation processes and new ICT is only limited and marked by obstacles. Drawing on the example of south-east Angola - a marginalised region in many respects - I seek to critically discuss the changing and varying ways in which these now fashionable terms have been conceived of diachronically.

Bachir Diagne

Dr Souleymane Bachir Diagne

Columbia University, New York.

sd2456 [ at ]

Souleymane Bachir Diagne is a professor in the departments of French and Philosophy at Columbia University. His field of research includes history of algebraic logic, history of philosophy, Islamic philosophy and African philosophy and literature. In all these domains, Souleymane Bachir Diagne has published extensively, mainly in French. Two of his books have been recently translated into English: Islam and the Open Society: Fidelity and Movement in the Philosophy of Muhammad Iqbal (2010) and African Art as Philosophy: Senghor, Bergson and the Idea of Negritude (2011). His most recent book is titled Bergson Postcolonial, l’élan vital dans la pensée de Léopold Senghor et de Mohamed Iqbal. His current research explores the topic of “Cultures and translation”.

Andreas Eckert







Prof. Dr. Andreas Eckert

Chair of African History, Humboldt University Berlin


Director International Research Institute “Work and Human Life Course in Global History” (funded by the German Federal Ministry for Research and Education)

Andreas Eckert’s research and writing focuses on the history of Africa in the 19th and 20th centuries, on the history of colonialism, and the history of global labour. He is the author of numerous books and articles and between 2005 and 2011 has served as editor of the “Journal of African History” (published by Cambridge University Press) He is currently preparing a general history of Africa since 1850. In addition, he is working on concepts of work and non-work in twentieth-century Africa in a global perspective.

Axel Fleisch







Dr. Axel Fleisch. Professor of African Studies

University of Helsinki, Finland

axel.fleisch [ at ]

My involvement in the conceptafrica network stems from a long-standing interest in cognitive semantics and African languages. Since a profound understanding of key concepts is at the methodological and theoretical core of conceptual historians’ work, familiarity with historical semantics and pragmatics can be a valuable tool in the investigation of African history. In this context, I want to put this in practice together with Simphiwe. We are interested in learning more about social and economic concepts of African language users reaching back into the 19th century, focusing on South Africa.

Socio-economic concerns characterise much of what has been written on South African 19th and 20th century history. Territorial deprivation, the growing significance of wage labour and labour migration, the changing constitution of households, and often also outright destitution are important economic factors. For a fuller understanding of how individuals acted within these conditions, it is necessary, however, to learn about the specific understandings and notions of (socio-)economic grievances at the respective points in time. By looking at sources written in African languages, we try to gain acces to two linguistic dimensions: (1) language use and the pragmatics of the discourses on economic grievances and poor living conditions; (2) the lexicon of this domain, showing interesting patterns of conventionalised understandings of economic needs. The pragmatic aspects can be accessed by close readings of textual sources, while the lexical-semantic component will encompass corpus-searches of key expressions gleaned from the text sources, and their fine-grained semantic analyses.

Pierre-Philippe Fraiture







Dr Pierre-Philippe Fraiture

University of Warwick. United Kingdom

p-p.fraiture [at]

In this project, Pierre-Philippe Fraiture is exploring the concept of decolonization as it has been analyzed by a number of contemporary African thinkers such as VY Mudimbe, Achille Mbembe, and Patrice Nganang.


Lwazi Siyabonga Lushaba

Lwazi Siyabonga Lushaba

University of Fort Hare, Alice and University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg

taungnguru [at ], llushaba [at ]

Lwazi Lushaba works in the area of Political Theory. His main interest is the construction of non-western subjects within modernity. He is currently working on a PhD thesis that seeks to plead the case for non-western forms of being-in-the-world which the objectifying and rationalising western episteme delegitimises as anachronistic and/or backward.

Anne Kelk Mager







Professor Anne Kelk Mager

University of Cape Town, South Africa

Anne.Mager [ at ]

I am interested in exploring the concept of work on the eastern Cape frontier in the nineteenth century. The term 'frontier' conjures up a sense of the instability of meanings and so it is with the meaning of work. In this project I explore indigenous meanings of work and the ways in which local, African understandings interacted with ideas of work brought by Moravian missionaries, European settlers and colonial officials in the eastern Cape frontier zone. Whilst the new meanings produced through colonial interaction and entanglement were fluid and unstable in the nineteenth century, they became more fixed as colonialism 'matured'. At the same time, these apparently modern meanings retained within them traces of pre-colonial ideas about work and resistances to imposed ideas even as behaviours, at least on the surface, became more compliant.

Lars Magnusson







Dr. Lars Magnusson

Professor of Economic History, Uppsala University
Chairman of the Swedish Collegium for Advanced Studies
Member of the Swedish Royal Academy of Science


Lars Magnusson's research profile involves among others history of 18th and 19th century economic thought iun Europe, and regulation and political economy in a historical perspective. He has a rich publication record in these and other fields. His most recent volumes are:
Twentieth-Century Economic History (ed Lars Magnusson), vol I-IV. Critical Concepts in Economics. Abingdon: Routledge 2010;Nation, State and the Industrial Revolution. Routledge: Abingdon 2009; The Evolution of Path dependency. (Lars Magnusson and Jan Ottossson eds). Edward Elgar: Cheltenham 2009; Mercantilist Theory and Practice: The History of English Mercantilism, vol.I-IV. (Ed Lars Magnusson). Picekring & Chatto: London 2008.

Lars Magnusson advices the team in particular on the conceptualisation of the economic.

Valentin Y. Mudimbe







Dr. Valentin Y. Mudimbe

Newman Ivey White Professor of Literature,
Duke University, USA

vmudimbe [ at]

Valentin Y. Mudimbe is a team member who advises the project drawing on his immense knowledge of philology, phenomenology, literature, history of ideas, philosophy, and Africa in general, and on his experiences as an author of numerous books and articles about African culture as well as poems and novels, among others the classical The inventing of Africa (1988) and The Idea of Africa (1994).

Terje Oestigaard

Dr Terje Oestigaard, researcher at the Nordic Africa Institute, Uppsala University, Sweden

Terje.Ostigard [ at]

Terje Oestigaard examines water in its natural, social and cultural/religious forms in past and present societies, in particular along the Nile. All societies throughout history have been structured around water but in different ways and to various degrees depending upon the availability of the changing water resources. The fluctuating water world has also formed central parts of people’s cultural structures as well as religious and ideological belief systems. While transcending common categorisations such as “nature” and “culture”, water also nites widely different spheres of human existence. Ideas and concepts of water therefore provide an analytical and theoretical entrance to challenging commonly hold concepts. Based on empirical studies, this may contribute new knowledge of African societies and cosmologies. Oestigaard has worked in Egypt and Ethiopia, and his current project is “Rainmaking and Climate Change in Tanzania: Traditions, Rituals and Globalisation”.


Syna Ouattara

Syna Ouattara, PhD (Social Anthropology)

Researcher, School of Global Studies, University of Gothenburg, Sweden

Syna.ouattara [ at ]

Syna Ouattara’s research focuses on environment, culture and rural development; indigenous/local knowledge; spirituality and modernity; and traditional medicine in West Africa. Within the Concept Africa research network, his research explores local perceptions of poverty and well-being as well as trends perceived over time (for example, local realities in different social, economic, historical and political contexts) among Sénoufo indigenous commercial cotton farmers in the Sikasso region in southern Mali. Particular attention is paid to the relationship between cotton markets and the social situation of cotton farmers. Furthermore, Ouattara examines key concepts and metaphors used among local actors to describe the social and economic contours of cotton labour and market conditions. By investigating how people define poverty and wealth and characterise what it is to be poor or rich, new knowledge can be generated from the translation of persons’ experiences and expressions.

Marné Pienaar







Prof. Marne Pienaar

Dept. of Afrikaans, University of Johannesburg,
Auckland Park Kingsway Campus, PO Box 524, Auckland Park, 2006, South Africa

mpienaar [ at ]

In the context of the conceptafrica research network, I am investigating various historical pragmatic and semantic perspectives on the concept 'marriage' in Afrikaans.


Ana Lúcia Sá

Dr Ana Lúcia Sá

Centre of African Studies, ISCTE-IUL, Lisbon, Portugal

analuciasa [ at ]

My research focuses on the essayistic productions of the Central Western African “new intellectuals”, especially the way they manage codes of different origins such as those received from a communal or religious education or those perceived as modern/Eurocentric. I’m especially interested in the proposal of new methodologies and approaches to gender, ethnic and cultural diversity issues on the decolonisation of the thought.

Simphiwe Sesanti



Rhiannon Stephens







Rhiannon Stephens, Ph.D. Assistant Professor of African History

Department of History, Columbia University, New York, USA

rs3169 [ at]

My current research explores the historical dynamics of perceptions of poverty over the longue duree in Uganda, from c.1000 CE. My contribution to the Conceptual History in the African Context project, "Concepts of Wealth and Poverty in the Linguistics Borderlands of Eastern Uganda," explores the intertwined notions of wealth and poverty, rich and poor across multiple linguistic, cultural and economic divides. In so doing it traces different conceptualizations of these (such as gendered understandings of poverty and wealth, or ideas of contamination versus respectability) that came to be shared between economically and linguistically distinct communities.

Bo Stråth







Dr. Bo Stråth

Finnish Academy Distinguished Professor of Nordic, European and World History
University of Helsinki, Finland

bo.strath [ at ]

My involvement in the project comes from the experienced need for a new world history. However, such a new world history must be something else than just an updated version of the conventional Western narrative with a starting point and a goal, where everything is measured in terms of backwardness and progress. The most recent example in this vein is the globalisation narrative since the early 1990s. A new world history must integrate perspectives formulated in academic discourses in non-Western cultures.

The point of departure is of my involvement is the previous organisation of a project of the conceptualisations and imaginations of the social and the economic in various Asian languages. The semantics of these two spheres are conventionally departing from Western conceptualisations with an origin in the Antique World. This Western provenience is arguably problematic in a global world without a Western centre. I want to participate in the development of a transnational epistemological horizon, towards which European, Asian and African conceptualisations of the social and the economic are related on an equal basis. The crucial question is to what extent the Western bias can be transgressed and how global communication across cultures and civilisations can be established.

The horizon I want to establish is not one where the Asian or African conceptualisations are played off against the European but one where European, Asian and African semantics are entangled in historical processes. A frequent argument in the postcolonial critique has dealt with a continuous Eurocentric agenda and that therefore full autonomy must be based on interruption of communication under development of indigenous discourses. I see our project as a challenge to this argument in its search for possibilities of a non-Eurocentric transcultural dialogue. In this search the project connects to recent trends in postcolonial studies, which emphasise the entangled and interdynamic rather than one-way hierarchical dimension of the relations between colonisers and colonised, in the past as well as in the present.