I am an anthropologist interested in the production of Africa as an object of knowledge. Namely, how “Africa” and “African” as categories of thought are produced through material practices across African and non-African sites, and, how these categories, in turn, shape experience. I am committed to a cross-disciplinary approach bridging scholarship, artistic practice, and social justice activism. The questions my work engages are informed in important ways by my lived experiences in the US, Europe, and West and Southern Africa as a dual Togolese and American citizen.
I completed my PhD in MIT's Program in History, Anthropology, and Science, Technology, and Society in 2016, where my dissertation research was supported by fellowships from the National Science Foundation and the Ford Foundation. I was a Postdoctoral Associate in Francophone African Studies in MIT's Global Studies and Languages program (2016-2017) before serving as Assistant Professor of African Studies in the same department from 2017 to 2019. Prior to joining the academy, I was in the field of public health for six years. I obtained a MSc in Population and International Health from the Harvard School of Public Health, conducted research on community-based responses to the HIV/AIDS pandemic as a Fulbright Scholar to Zambia, and developed health literacy interventions for South African and American organizations.
My research centers on African being in the world: the construction, meanings, and negotiations of “African-ness” on the continent, in its diasporas, and across the two. I am particularly interested in how these processes unfold through commodities and creative production, and in the forms of political mobilization that they engender.
The African Futures Action Lab, which I co-direct with legal sociologist and transitional justice expert Dr. Liliane Umubyeyi, takes up these questions specifically from the perspective of contemporary movements in Europe, Africa, and the Americas for justice and reparation for colonial crimes. The lab aims to both generate knowledge about effective strategies in the pursuit of these claims, and to serve as a knowledge broker among the various stakeholder groups (activists, policymakers, lawyers, academics…) engaged in them.
My prior research took as its object of focus a textile (Dutch Wax cloth aka “African print cloth”) produced in the Netherlands for West African markets since the late 19th century, at a time when its producer was attempting to rebrand itself from a textile manufacturer for African markets into a global luxury brand. This inflection point offered a prime opportunity to investigate the definition and negotiation of “African-ness” (and its value) as a set of material and aesthetic qualities. The multi-sited ethnography focused on the practices of textile designers, advertising professionals, textile traders, and tailors in the Netherlands and Togo.
Another project underway with colleagues in Togo and Belgium, thanks to a MIT Global Seed Fund Grant, examines entrepreneurial initiatives undertaken by African “returnees” in their (or their parents’) home countries on the continent. Focusing on entrepreneurship in the creative industries specifically (digital media, fashion, film/music), my portion of the project interrogates the notion of “return” for these hyphenated Africans, and how cultural production mediates their articulations of Africa and African-ness in this historical moment.
|2016||“Redrawing Power? Dutch Wax Cloth and the Politics of ‘Good Design,’” Journal of Design History, 29 (3): 258-272.|
|2019||“From African cloth to global luxury: Consumers in the rebranding of Dutch Wax cloth,” in Mehita Iqani and Simidele Dosekun, Eds., Luxury in Africa: Aesthetics and Politics (Bristol: Intellect Books)|
|2019||“Crafting material, being material,” in Marie-Pier Boucher, Stefan Helmreich, Leila Kinney, Skylar Tibbits, Rebecca Uchill and Evan Ziporyn, Eds., BEING MATERIAL (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press)|
Africa and the Politics of Knowledge
Africa is not a country, but rather a territory covering one fifth of Earth’s land surface, home to over one sixth of the world’s population, and more than one thousand languages. And yet “Africa” continues to mean something in the world as a place. The aim of this course is to examine how ideas about the kind of place that “Africa” is have been articulated and negotiated from colonial times to the present. So doing, we get a glimpse of the politics of knowledge production across the disciplines of geography, history, biology, political science, and the creative industries. The course is divided into two parts: Being and Becoming. In Part 1, Being, we consider foundational constructions of Africa as a place in the world (what Africa is), through its geographical mapping, debates about its history, and the articulation of race—of Blackness in particular. In Part 2, Becoming, we turn to social science theories, political, and cultural movements from the postcolonial period to the present that have sought to conceptualize Africa’s place in the world after independence (what Africa shall become).
Reparations for slavery and colonization: Contemporary movements for justice
Demands by African and Afro-descended peoples for justice for slavery and colonization are increasingly becoming part of both national and global public discourse, even though reparations movements have been around for several decades. The claims, coming both from formerly colonized nations in the Caribbean and Africa, and from within the US and European nations, are articulated on multiple fronts, including but not limited to: economic reparations, the removal of monuments celebrating imperialism, the restitution of looted artifacts, land-related claims, changes in international development and foreign affairs policy, and changes in language and education policy. This class examines contemporary movements for justice for slavery in the Americas and European colonization in Africa by addressing: the historical events for which these movements seek redress; contemporary movements’ historical antecedents; strategies currently employed by different movements; the affordances of the various apparatuses being employed (e.g. grassroots activism, judiciary, policy, institutional, national, supranational...); and the challenges and opportunities these movements face. We will discuss claims for justice from the Caribbean, Africa, Europe, and North America. The class will feature guest lectures by scholars from a variety of disciplines (anthropology, history, political theory, museum studies…) and institutions around the world, as well as practitioners (activists, lawyers, artists) currently involved in these efforts. Student projects over the course of the semester will contribute to the interventions developed by these practitioners.
|2020||Everett Moore Baker Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching|
|2019||Levitan Award for Excellence in Teaching, MIT School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences|
|2019||African Culture Fund Performing and Visual Arts Grant|
|2018||MIT Global Seed Fund, “Return Migration and African Futures: Togolese and Rwandan Experiences”|
Learn more about the Justice Now? symposium organized by Amah Edoh in collaboration with human rights NGO Avocats Sans Frontières in March 2021, on movements for reparations and racial justice across Europe, Africa, and North America. Session videos accessible here.
African Futures Action Lab (website coming soon!)
Travail de Mémoire exhibition co-curated by Amah Edoh in Lomé, Togo (June 30-July 30, 2021)