How African is the ‘African Studies Review’?

The journal’s editor acknowledges that it has a long way to go before most Africa-based scholars recognize it as an especially African journal.

Manenberg. Image credit Slum Dwellers International via Flickr CC.

During a recent visit to Senegal, I spent time with Dr. Cheikh Thiam and Dr. Divine Fuh discussing what makes African studies particularly African. We reflected on some of the structural tensions in African studies research, the inequities embedded in the field, and disjunctures between research programs imagined outside the continent and realities on the ground for African scholars and visiting researchers. This meeting was one of several in Senegal, Mauritania, Ghana, and South Africa during which I considered the disconnect between those who research, write, and publish about Africa, and the lived experience of African researchers affiliated with universities, research institutes, and other scholarly networks and fora. A recurring theme in our discussions centered on how and why so many articles written about a particular place, nation, community, or group are rarely accessible or circulated among those who inhabit the very site of study. In many respects, these many and related concerns return us to a central question: how African is the African Studies Review (ASR)?

After mulling over this conundrum, my colleagues offered a suggestion. What if we were to actively promote new research about a particular country in that country? What if, for example, we took the newest work about Nigeria published in the ASR to emerging Nigerian scholars in Nigeria, to share it and discuss it? Building on this proposition, the ASR Seminar was hatched. The ASR Seminar is a new initiative piloted twice in late 2019 to engage young, emerging, and early-career scholars based at institutions of higher learning in Africa with pertinent new scholarship appearing in the ASR. Two interdisciplinary seminars were co-hosted by Dr. Thiam and locally-based scholars in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia [Dr. Daniel Assefa] and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania [Dr. John Wakota, one of the team of ASR Book Review Editors], along with me (in my role as current ASR Editor-in-Chief). Fifteen participants were granted complimentary access to six recent ASR articles germane to scholars of Ethiopia/Tanzania, to be read in advance of the event. The seminars were conducted in the form of a graduate/postgraduate question and discussion running approximately two hours, followed by light refreshments and an informal discussion of the ASR, its mission and structure, and publishing in peer-reviewed journals more generally. Participants created CambridgeCore accounts and were provided with a complimentary one-year ASA membership, granting access to all the Cambridge University Press African studies journals.

After planning and hosting these initial seminars, I am optimistic about the future of African studies. Our hope is that ASA members will step forward in the future and offer to host seminars across the continent. The sustainable growth and future health of the African Studies Review rests heavily on the new generation of African studies scholars on the African continent. Over the past two years, we have taken concrete steps to make the journal more accessible to and inclusive of Africa-based scholars. We have expanded our editorial team and Editorial Review Board to include numerous African scholars. We’ve transitioned to being a bilingual journal, accepting and reviewing submissions in English and French. We have added Portuguese abstracts to gain traction with our lusophone peers. We have developed the Pipeline for Emerging African Studies Scholars (PEASS) to workshop, develop, and mentor new scholarship by scholars on the continent. We have rolled out a new scheme to incentivize first-time peer reviewing by African scholars. The journal’s editors are attending more conferences, meeting more emerging scholars, soliciting fascinating new manuscripts, and elucidating the process of article submission. And we have reformed our internal peer-review policies, enhancing equity and mitigating some of the deficiencies arising from inadequate resource access and distribution in African institutions of higher learning.

Just as the health of the membership is vital to the life of a professional association, a dynamic journal is only as healthy as its readership. Like the submission volume, the readership must be growing. As Editor-in-Chief, one of the most important responsibilities I have is demystifying journal publishing for people less familiar with, or entirely unacquainted with, the process. Our newly-updated FAQ page provides expert guidance on how to respond effectively to the Revise and Resubmit decision letter and an example by a published scholar in this very issue, Dr. Rachel Silver. As a result of our newest implemented editorial change, the dates of original submission, revision, and acceptance appear below the abstract. This invaluable data helps readers understand the timeline of production. One of the best ways to maximize the likelihood that your submission will move through the peer-review pipeline is if you yourself have reviewed for us previously.

The African Studies Review wants to publish the best new critical scholarship, and much of that is written on the African continent by Africa-based scholars. All Africanists want our work to be disseminated, read, digested, and engaged with by scholars globally. Many of us hope that our research has real and direct impact. As much as I dislike essentializations, the ASR has a long way to go before most Africa-based scholars recognize it as an especially African journal.

Further Reading