A reflection on the necessity for an
‘ontological turn’ in African studies with
reference to the ecologies of knowledge

by Peter Kankonde-Bukasa

Working Papers WP 15-06
June 2015
ISSN 2192-2357 (MMG Working Papers Print)

Full text: pdf

We are currently witnessing the increased diversification of the field of academic knowledge production, where more and more forms of knowledge that were kept at the periphery for centuries are claiming recognition at centre stage. This reality has pushed scholars to question the impact and lasting legacies of historical processes of racism and colonialism still embedded in mainstream academic knowledge production. This translates today into a major critic of social science methodologies, which may be seen as “master’s tools” serving to reproduce contested coloniality of academic knowledge in most non-Western regions today. In Africa this debate is framed as the knowledge decolonial option and looks particularly at what forms and whose knowledge is legitimised, reproduced, and for what purpose through the current education structure and what socio-political and cultural functions it plays. This is the debate that this paper contributes to. It suggests an ontological turn in order to move from an emphasis on the identities of the producers to focus instead on the knowledge production process itself. The main argument is that there is indeed a timely necessity to advance an ontologically relevant Africanist scholarship that gives a sympathetic theological reading of the African lived experience. As a methodology and scholarly language, ontology constitutes a neutral ground in knowledge production, validation and consumption debates that needs to be taken seriously as it allows scholars to take into account the lived worlds that people inhabit and the correlating ways of being and knowing. The paper highlights particularly the current issues of misreading and misrepresentation as well as the need to avoid reading African realities with external interpretative and explanative lenses.  

Keywords: Ontological Turn, coloniality, African, Cosmology

Peter Kankonde-Bukasa is a doctoral candidate at the Max Planck Institute for
the Study of Religious and Ethnic Diversity. He is doing a joint PhD with the Georg August University in Göttingen and the African Centre for Migration and Society (ACMS) at the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannisburg. He currently coordinates the Religion and Migration Research Initiative at the ACMS.
Peter can be contacted at: kankonde(at)mmg.mpg.de