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Theory and the Empirical in African Studies


Admission requirements

Free and compulsory for students enrolled in the RESMAAS program. Those from other MA programs may be admitted with prior registration (contact coordinator)


In this stage of the programme of the research masters the students have to prepare their theoretical orientation for their research. In order to facilitate their choices, but also to ‘discover’ what theory is the students will be introduced to the conceptual/ theoretical considerations and choices of various senior researchers. How did they relate to theory while developing their research? What were guiding theories and concepts for them? And how did they work for them during the analysis or even the data gathering. This should however be linked to more general literature on the concepts.

In this course we present the theories, i.e. ‘thinking models’ under four headings that we have chosen as fields that have proven relevant for the study of Africa. Each of these themes has a different corpus of theories that will be presented to the students. Every two weeks the students will have a practical assignment to work on these theories if possible in relation to their own research. Thus there will be full days of teaching on Mondays and Thursdays. The second Thursday of each block will be reserved for the presentation of assignments. On the other days, there will be lecture/seminars, in total eight per block with two on the first Monday, rather longer and introducing the theoretical basis of the theme; thus the two weeks will be as follows:

10.00 -12.30 introductory lecture
13.30-16.00 2nd introductory lecture

Thursday and Monday
10.00-12.00, 12.30-14.30, 15.00-17.00 lecture seminars, if necessary two brought together

Thursday 10.00: Student presentations

The four blocks will be centered around:

Title and Block Captain:
I Power, and Access to resources Han van Dijk
II Economy and food Marleen Dekker
III Consumption and technology Jan-Bart Gewald
IV Expression and popular culture Daniela Merolla

Each block will have a Block Captain who, in addition to his/her own lectures will be present throughout the block, both to help tie the various lectures together and to organise the student presentations.

The blocks will be held together by common themes which will recur in all, or at least most, of them. The most important of these lies in the interaction, between, on the one hand, globalisation and on the other, local manifestations and developments. This overlaps with, but is certainly not coincident with, the interaction between innovation and the deep structures of the longue durée in African history. These relationships need to be made explicit at the beginning of the course, and to recur during each of the blocks. Other themes which may recur would include forms of religion, law, security and health. It can be expected, for instance, that matters of physical secureity would be addressed in the block on power, food security in the economics block and philosophical and religious discourses on security in the expression block. Similar coincidences can be expected for other themes.

Course objectives

Students will learn how theoretical insights can be integrated to their field research. The course is designed to deepen each student’s understanding of Africa, and simultaneously to provide a forum in which the development of his/her research topic can be furthered. By the end of the course, each student should be able to begin writing a full proposal, and should therefore have both decided on the topic and mastered the most important literature on the subject.


Schedule: Mondays 10:00-17:00 and Thursdays: 10:00-17:00

Mode of instruction


Assessment method

Four assignment papers


Available for registered students.

Reading list

Provided on the first meeting of class and posted on Blackboard


Exchange and Study Abroad students, please see the Study in Leiden website for information on how to apply

Contact information

Dr. Azeb Amha
Academic Coordinator
P O Box 9555, 2300 RB Leiden, NL
Tel. +31-71-527-3364