Something My Students Taught Their Teacher
In an attempt to get my students to better understand Resource Politics, I once showed them The French Africa Connection: a great three-part documentary by Al Jazeera highlighting the history of ‘Francafrique‘ – France’s deeply problematic relationship with its former colonies. The documentary had been screened earlier that year at the IEA, and though I knew it would bring things alive for my students in a way that a straightforward lecture and discussion might not, I really wasn’t ready for just how much my students emotionally connected with it. By the end of the course, they unanimously expressed a hope that more lecturers would make much more use of audiovisual content. This got me wondering:
Were my students just a little lazy, or is it possible that they connected better with the subject through audiovisual (rather than written) content because it has a continuity with the oral traditions upon which our cultures were founded?
Bear with me.
How Easily Ghana Forgets
Some say that there is no reading culture in Ghana. I disagree. Mainstream reading culture in Ghana may only be as old as the colonial project, but we do read. Partly because many of us were raised to associate reading with pain and punishment however, our reading culture is…
Where some peoples have historically relied on written records for centuries, our ancients used oral tradition as one means of passing down knowledge across generations. There was a genius (and typical African pragmatism) to this:
Stories and proverbs change and adapt over time: a word here, an example there. Containing our ways of thinking and doing things in oral form allowed them to change and adapt as we changed and adapted. What was useful to community stayed and what wasn’t didn’t.
Depending on how you look at it though, the very thing that made oral tradition genius was also a flaw:
It relies on human memory. And there is so much that we forget.
Tradition Meets Tech
Modern audiovisual media – documentaries, films, music, blogs, radio, podcasts, etc – all bridge this gap, allowing us to record the things we think and do in ways that can be passed down with great accuracy. There is more continuity here. Our storytellers used to tell tales by the fireside. Today, we record, watch and replay our new stories by the heat and light emitted from screens and projectors. Or we listen to them on the radio, through such programmes as the news or through the lyrics of our songs. Less communal, and yet social media helps us commune in new ways and with bigger communities.
Sure: we are hardly the only ones who do this, but what I like about all of this is that it raises the stakes of our storytelling. Not only is it important that we tell our stories, but it is also important which stories we tell (all of ’em), how well we tell them, and how widely we share them. Not just across distance, but across time.
I gave a lecture last year about the responsibility of academics to popularize knowledge. So much of our knowledge ends up in papers and reports that are only read by academics and non-African-Africa-experts-to-be. In the age of information that the internet has helped unleash, this must change. Everyone needs to know.
A month or so ago, I found myself listening to Ta-Nehisi Coates’ ‘The First White President.’ Not reading o:
I have long been aware of the existence of audiobooks, but I was slow to the fact that magazines like the Atlantic have also taken to having their articles narrated. Reading is deeply important, but we do not have the luxury of waiting until everyone believes that in order to know (and share) everything that gets written down.
This is where things like blogcasting come in.
Blog + Podcast = Blogcast
I find so much hateful, ignorant garbage shared on Whatsapp: wouldn’t it be cool if we had better content to share on there? To this end, I plan on putting some of my blog posts out in both written and audio forms.
To begin with, I am going to do a series of personal reflections on aspects of Social Theory: a course I co-teach with my colleague and friend, Kajsa Hallberg-Adu (aka. Lil’ Superwoman).
More than just a history of the ideas of dead white men, our version of Social Theory attempts to explain things to do with who we as Africans are, why we do things the way we do, how it links us to our pasts (far more than we admit), and what implications this carries for our possible futures.
Every Ghanaian should know these things. Putting my personal reflections in audio form is my way of making such knowledge a little more accessible to more people. Maybe I’ll persuade Kajsa to blog her reflections too.
My first episode will be out tomorrow. Feel free to share it if you feel it. Better yet, feel free to create your own blogcasts: it’s hardly an original idea but it’s a useful one.
And – while you’re at it – you should probably subscribe to all the great podcasts coming out of Ghana, obviously starting with the DECAF podcast.