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Cluster of Excellence EXC 2052 - "Africa Multiple: reconfiguring African Studies"

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Politics of the Unknown. Conspiracism and Conflict

The JRG led by Dr. Joschka Philipps will analyse how conspiracy theories shape and are shaped by political conflict. In their research, Philipps and his team will scrutinize the concept of “post-truth” – an expression that was declared the international word of the year 2016 by Oxford Dictionary – and how it applies to postcolonial African politics, specifically in Guinea and Tunisia. Although Africa is rarely associated with the label of “post-truth politics”, it is all the more permeated by the phenomenon. While Northern scholars tend to consider “post-truth politics” against the backdrop of a Western consensus on what can be scientifically proven and what sources can be trusted, the Africanist approach provides a more nuanced perspective on the heterogenous social, political and discursive spaces that allow for the emergence of rumours, conspiracy theories and suspicions about political orders. Combining ethnographic research, quantitative surveys, and cartography, the project aims to open up multiple perspectives on the complexities of postcolonial politics in Africa. The transdisciplinary project will also examine photographic artworks and collaborate with Hadia Bah and her theater group Emoticônes224 based in Conakry, Guinea.

Project Description

How do we make sense of politics that are too inaccessible to be known and too significant to be ignored or left uncertain? The JRG Politics of the Unknown. Conspiracism and Conflict led by Joschka Philipps revolves around this question to analyse how political conflicts shape and are shaped by different perceptions of truth and reality. The project consists of different case studies zooming in on contexts of particular uncertainty. Saïkou Sagnane and Kingsley Jima, for instance, focus their PhD research on the Guinean coup d’état in 2021 and the ongoing Nigerian media debate on banditry (the so-called “unknown gunmen”) in the country’s Northwest, respectively. In Guinea, Joschka Philipps leads an interdisciplinary team of researchers and artists concerned with the broader history of Guinea, fraught with real and imagined conspiracies against the postcolonial regime of Sékou Touré. Their work combines diverse methodologies, ranging from (auto-)biographies (Nana Barry and Joschka Philipps), surveys and ethnographies (Saïkou Sagnane and Joschka Philipps) to photography (Aurélien Gillier), audio-mapping of the capital city Conakry (Tuline Gülgönen and Paul Schweizer), cinematographic approaches (Bilal Sow and Wula Mohamed), fine arts (Sékou Oumar Thiam), and installations (Sven Werner) which are to be exhibited in Conakry and Bayreuth in 2024.

Across these cases and approaches, the JRG Politics of the Unknown scrutinises concepts that have come to describe contemporary dissent and contestation in the public sphere, notably “post-truth”, an expression that was declared the International Word of the Year 2016 by Oxford Dictionary, and «conspiracy theories», a concept that features prominently as the social sciences’ “other” since the 1960s. Interrogating from a critical African Studies perspective what these concepts describe and prescribe, the JRG seeks to contribute to a more nuanced understanding of contemporary politics in Africa and beyond.

Webmaster: Dr. Doris Löhr

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