Dr. Ron Eglash

Issues in African Epistemology

1) Two oppositional strategies
a. Sameness -- e.g. Levi-Strauss's structuralism: all human societies use complex systems of arbitrary symbols, therefore all human minds are the same.
b.Difference -- e.g. Senghor's Negritude: African societies use music, sculpture and rhythm rather than texts and codes and formula.

Sameness can be troubling because it forces you to play the dominant game. Difference can be troubling because it traps you into using only what has been defined as "authentic."

2) The problem of essentialism

The idea that all societies in Africa share one list of common characteristics is called "essentialism." An alternative, proposed by theorists such as Wole Soyinka, is to think of Africa societies as united by a "family resemblance" -- a clustering of characteristics as visualized below.

3) Racism/Ethnocentracism
a. Primitivism: mind is too concrete, person is too emotional, sexual, culture is too close to nature.
b. Orientalism: mind is too abstract, person is too unemotional, monetary, culture is too far from nature.