Instructor Insights

Varieties of Cultural Production

In this section, Professor Edoh describes the range of cultural activities and productions that the course examined.

We met once a week, and each session focused on a different form of cultural production or a different theme: dress, literature, film, science and technology, and so on. And at the beginning of every class and also during the break halfway through the class, we would listen to music from one of the countries discussed in the readings. For many of the students, this was going to be the only class on Africa they ever took for the rest of their lives, so I wanted to use the time as effectively as possible and also to give the students some knowledge of African popular culture.

"For each unit, new questions came up, but the thread that cut across them was the same: how is Africa being made to mean in the world, and how are African cultural producers, through their practice, engaging in that process of making Africa to mean?."
— M. Amah Edoh

For each unit, new questions came up, but the thread that cut across them was the same: how is Africa being made to mean in the world, and how are African cultural producers, through their practice, engaging in that process of making Africa to mean?

And then more specific questions arose, about what issues arise with any specific form of cultural production. For instance, what does it mean to produce a play for an audience in Nigeria and to come perform that play in Cambridge, Massachusetts? What are the politics in that? What are the questions that come up in carrying this cultural object from one space into the next? My goal was to reflect through each of these cases the underlying question of the course, and then to show the nuances or the specificities that applied to each particular form of creative production.

There was also another agenda behind it. At MIT in particular, we tend to fetishize technology and consider it as existing in a realm outside of other material practices, other ways of knowing. One of my personal missions is to show that technology is no different from these other practices—they’re all objects, ways of doing, ways of knowing. So whether we’re talking about plant healing or developing the next nano-technology, we can think about these things next to each other, no matter where they’re happening.

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