Legacies of Engagement: Scholarship Informed By Political Commitment
Scholar-activists, by virtue of their critical engagement in the central issues of the day and their role in the production and dissemination of knowledge, have a unique opportunity to challenge the inherited orthodoxies in the academy and in the larger world in which we live. Within the field of African studies they have served as powerful critics and have broken new substantive, conceptual, methodological, and epistemological ground. To sustain this thesis, this essay explores three interrelated issues. First, it critically assesses the concept of value-free research—a notion which is commonly used to dismiss engaged scholarship as inherently flawed. Second, it documents how a number of African American scholars, passionately committed to social justice and to an end to racial oppression, produced pioneering work on Africa well before the field of African studies gained academic legitimacy in the post–World War II era. Finally, it highlights some of the critically important contributions that activist scholars have made to the study of Africa. The intellectual biographies of six prominent Africanists—Claude Aké, Basil Davidson, Francis Deng, Susan Geiger, Joseph Harris, and Walter Rodney—illuminate how political commitment can fuel theoretical and methodological innovation.