Many famous scholars worldwide are involved in the China-Africa Knowledge Project launched by the Social Science Research Council in New York. Among them are Li Anshan (left) and He Wenping from China. Photos by Feng Yongbin / China Daily
Pioneer leads way on China-Africa research
One of the research organizations helping to deliver new directions in China-Africa social sciences is the Social Science Research Council in New York. The council is one of the world's oldest think tanks, having celebrated its 90th birthday last year. In 2013, it launched the China-Africa Working Group and the China-Africa Knowledge Project Resource Hub as a way of strengthening the production of interdisciplinary knowledge.
The council pioneered the study of researchers and organizations at universities and in think tanks, that are focused on China-Africa relations. The product of the study by the council's Tatiana Carayannis and Nathaniel Olin, was a report in 2012 entitled A Preliminary Mapping Study of China-Africa Research and Knowledge Networks", which pointed out the various academic activities, stressing the need for greater coordination. The council followed this with a forum in Beijing in May last year discussing responses to conflict, and since then the council has put together more academics from around the world to discuss China-Africa issues.
The China-Africa Knowledge Project, directed by Carayannis, a conflict prevention and peace specialist, follows other China-Africa initiatives. One such program is called China, Africa and the UN, and is aimed at providing research support in areas related to peacekeeping and peace building in Africa. The council acknowledges that "China's contributions to UN peace operations are growing faster than those of any other developing country", and aims to make a contribution toward "efforts to reform or reorient UN peacemaking, peacekeeping, and peace building (to address challenges) of coordination among member states and between member states and the UN system".
It is now acknowledged that China is the biggest contributor to UN peacekeeping personnel of all the five permanent members of the Security Council, and this is spurring the council's scholarly focus.
The council's work on China, Africa and the UN centers mainly on a scholars-in-residence program that includes seminars and workshops in partnership with organizations such as the American Friends Service Committee, which has offices in Beijing and Nairobi, as well as scholarly collaboration with Beijing Foreign Studies University.
To appreciate the significance of the China-Africa Knowledge Project, you only need look at the top notch China-Africa scholars associated with its working group. They include Christopher Alden of the Department of International Relations at the London School of Economics; Deborah Brautigam of the International Development and Comparative Politics Program at Johns Hopkins University; Mamadou Diouf, director of the Institute of African Studies at Columbia University; He Wenping, Africa specialist at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences; Ron Kassimir, a council senior adviser; Jackie Klopp of Columbia University; Daniel Large of Central European University; Li Anshan of the Center for African Studies at Peking University; Liu Haifang, also from Peking University; Jamie Monson, professor and chair, Department of History, Macalester College; and Yoon Jung Park, coordinator of the Chinese in Africa/Africans in China Research Network. Between them the researchers have produced an ever-expanding body of knowledge on China-Africa relations.
Late last year the council organized an event entitled "Making sense of the China-Africa relationship: Theoretical approaches and the politics of knowledge at Yale University." This was perhaps the first conference to grapple with the question of the theoretical dimensions of research in the field. The conference sought to figure out "how knowledge is produced, for whom and how to connect empirical work to broader bodies of knowledge". China-Africa researchers keenly await the conference proceedings.
The conference was particularly instructive by dint of a presentation by Professor Immanuel Wallerstein, entitled "China, Africa, and the world system since 1945". Wallerstein is recognized as a leading scholar on world systems theory, and those who attended were enthralled by his hour-long lecture.
The council is keenly aware of the need for more collaboration between scholars as well as related matters such as mentoring of upcoming scholars. Through its digital platform, China-Africa enthusiasts are able to connect, engage in joint initiatives and advance the China-Africa research agenda. Probably more important is the fact that the networks that the council is creating are not only multidisciplinary but also multinational.
For China Daily
(China Daily Africa Weekly 06/13/2014 page8)