ABSTRACT

This chapter analyses a life-history interview with an African climate change researcher to explore the conditions for scientific knowledge production in Africa. We are inspired by the North Irish geographer David Livingstone and his 2012 article ‘Reflections on the cultural spaces of climate’ in which he calls for attention to the spatial, the geographical and the location-specific in climate change research. We explore how these issues manifest themselves in the life-history of an African climate change researcher. Thus, we follow Livingstone’s recommendation to inquire into the particular, the specific and spatially located knowledge, through which we hope to be able to show something more general about conditions for scientific knowledge production in Africa today. In doing so, we touch upon both the universality and particularity of knowledge. We are also inspired by Beninese philosopher Paulin Hountondji and have partly borrowed our title from his 1995 article ‘Producing knowledge in Africa today’. Hountondji applied classic concepts, arguments and theories from development research such as dependency, centre-periphery and world-system to argue that research in Africa was ‘extroverted’ and ‘dependent’. By this he meant that research was dependent on the Global North in a number of ways and not related to the local situation in Africa. This was similar to the industrial economies in Africa that were oriented towards the Global North, dependent on the capitalist markets there instead of being oriented towards the African continent and national and regional needs and economies (Hountondji, 1990). In our discussion, we follow Hountondji’s line of thought and look into ways to make African research more ‘introvert’ and directed towards society. As the chapter is based on the life history of an African researcher who has been actively involved in a number of Danida’s research capacity-building projects, we also touch upon the role of donor aid in African higher education. As we will see, such programmes can be important for the career trajectories of African researchers. We use an auto-ethnographic approach (see e.g. Ellis, 2004; Maréchal, 2010) in analysing Cheikh Mbow’s life history, which can be defined as: ‘A form or method of research that involves self-observation and reflexive investigation in the context of ethnographic field work and writing’ (Maréchal, 2010: 43). However, we also reflect upon the auto-ethnography of the other two authors in order to be able to compare and contrast the African experience with experiences from Asia and Europe. The other two authors also have knowledge of and practical experience with capacity development efforts taking place in Africa and have conducted research here.