Rethinking Anthropology in the “negative” moment

The Anthropology Sothern Africa (ASnA) 2016 conference was hosted by the Centre of African Studies of the University of Venda, Thohoyandou, South Africa.

It was spear-headed by ASnA council member Dolphin Mabale with the support of staff members, Dr Pfarelo Matshidze, Isaiah Ndhambi, Eric Ndivhiwo Mathoho, and Nyadzani Dolphus Nevhudoli and postgraduate students, Diana Ramusetheli, Livhuwani Tshikukuvhe, Muriel Badugela, Stewart Kugara, Tsetselelani Mdhluli, Meshack Machebele, and Charles N’wankoti.

It was the first Anthropology conference to be hosted by the University of Venda and the expectations were extremely high. Local Venda dancers entertained the delegates on the first day of the conference. The conference was funded by the Wenner-Gren Foundation and Taylor & Francis. The Wenner-Gren Foundation funded the keynote speakers, southern African delegates, as well as the Cecil Manona Postgraduate Workshop. Taylor & Francis funded the printing of conference programmes. There were two keynote addresses and six (6) delegates from southern African universities funded by the Wenner-Gren Foundation.

The 2016 ASnA conference sought to clarify the role of the discipline of anthropology in Southern Africa in the negative moment, and engage with it. About the negative moment, Achille Mbembe, 2015, in Decolonizing Knowledge and the Question of the Archive commented: “Twenty one years after freedom, we have now fully entered what looks like a negative moment. This is a moment most African postcolonial societies have experienced. Like theirs in the late 1970s, 1980s and 1990s, ours is grey and almost murky. It lacks clarity...A negative moment is a moment when new antagonisms emerge while old ones remain unresolved”. This radical moment of change has been witnessed in higher education recently with the hashtag movements, amongst others, the #rhodesmustfall, #freestellenbosch, #endoutsourcing and the #feesmustfall.
The themes for the conference widely addressed issues pertaining to the negative moment, where 76 paper were read and two (2) keynote addresses delivered. The first keynote address was delivered by Professor Faye Venetia Harrison who read a paper titled: “Anthropology, Negative Moments, and Facing the Challenges of Epistemic Decolonization." Harrison is Professor of African American Studies and Anthropology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

The second keynote address was delivered by Anne-Maria Boitumelo Makhulu, whose paper was titled: “The Time-Space of the Negative”. Makhulu is an Associate Professor of Cultural Anthropology and African and Africa American Studies at Duke University.

Call for papers and panel proposals for papers and panel proposals

We're excited to share the call for papers for this year's ASnA conference, to be held at the University of Venda from 30 September to 2 October 2016.

Send your abstracts and panel proposals to:

Should you have any queries about the conference, please contact us at:

Click here for conference proceedings


Anthropology Southern Africa is pleased to invite submissions for the 2016 Monica Wilson Prize for the best student essay submitted by a postgraduate student as a paper at the annual Anthropology Southern Africa conference. The prize-winning essay will be selected based on the work that best address the theme of the annual conference or excellently exemplifies the spirit of discovery in ethnographic work.

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See our official Monica Wilson Winners page!



The 2016 annual conference was kick-started by the Cecil Manona Postgraduate Workshop on Thursday, 29th September which was sponsored by the Wenner-Gren Foundation. Pia Bombardella and Hemali Joshi convened the workshop which was facilitated by Nokuthula Hlabangane, Nosipho Mngomezulu, Kelly Gillespie and Marlon Swai Burgess. The facilitators spoke to the theme of the conference as well as to the question of methodology in particular. Hlabangane argued that black lives are characterised by structures whose reason for existence is to produce and re-produce black existential crisis. She used decolonial prescripts to argue this point, while drawing from WEB du Bois, Ramon Grosfoguel, Walter Mignolo, Nelson Maldonado-Torres, Frances Nyamjoh and Mpilo Sithole. Some of the arguments she made included;

  • That knowledge production is political and this politics needs to be traced back centuries earlier
  • As such, methods follow the knowledge system of which they are a part
  • These methods fail to account for the many structural edifices that produce and re-produce black existential pain
  • She argued against the notion of discipline as taking its cue from Eurocentric sensibilities that were conceived from European experiences and aspirations
  • As such, the burgeoning call to decolonise the university apparatus is also a call to question the notion of discipline
  • She highlighted the Cartesian influence in the work we do and argued against it as a black woman agitating for visibility and affirmation of my ways of thinking, knowing, listening, apprehending and engaging with the world...
  • She challenged participants to re-think the taken-for-granted that they have been taught in order to think anew.

Supported by the Wenner-Gren Foundation, the “Cecil Manona Methodology Workshop” brings together postgraduate students and experts for a one day intensive workshop on theory and scientific methodology in anthropology. This will be achieved through specialized training, tutoring, peer contact and mentoring. The objective is to provide postgraduate students in anthropology with a strong grounding in critical thinking and scientific investigation that will contribute towards advancing science in anthropology. The workshop content will focus broadly on a spectrum of critical questions and key debates in the discipline, with strong emphasis on the relationship between theory and method in anthropology.

Postgraduate students from all Southern Africa universities and colleges are invited to participate in the program as “fellows”. These fellows will be given the opportunity to be mentored by senior scholars, and to receive both expert and peer feedback on writing for their dissertations/theses. They will be given the opportunity to engage experts and senior scholars on specific thematic issues, discuss key readings in these areas, and consolidate their methodology training in the discipline. Students in search of a setting in which to present and discuss parts of their research with peers and experts are particularly welcomed to participate in this workshop.

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