4 QUESTIONS TO… Peter Geschiere

“THE IDEA OF ‘REVERSING THE GAZE’ CAN BE VERY HELPFUL, IF IT IS RELATED DIRECTLY TO GLOBAL AND LOCAL POWER RELATIONS, ALSO FOR HIGHLIGHTING THE AMBIGUITIES AROUND DECOLONIZATION.”


Peter Geschiere is Emeritus Professor of Social Anthropology (University of Amsterdam). He is a fellow in the “Reversing the Gaze“ project.


Can you explain your research area in three sentences?

I am an anthropologist, but also a historian. I undertake field-work in various parts of Cameroon and elsewhere in West Africa. Central topics in my work include local ways of dealing with state formation, decolonization, ’’witchcraft’’ and lately my focus lies on homophobia and freemasonry. 


How did you become involved in this project as a fellow ?

I got to know Elísio Macamo from collaborating with him at the International African Institute (SOAS University of London), but also through his lectures and publications. I very much like his subtle approach to complex issues such as decolonization and reversing the gaze. It was therefore a pleasure to join this project and to get an insight into the various case studies.

Elísio asked me to participate in this project as my book on issues of citizenship, belonging and exclusion (Perils of Belonging: Autochthony, Citizenship and Exclusion in Africa and Europe, 2009) was based on this idea of reversing the gaze – looking at the Dutch suddenly using notions like autochthony, or allochthony from the longer history of these concepts in Cameroon and elsewhere in Francophone Africa. Generally speaking, I was intrigued by the concept of ‘reversing the gaze’, especially how it relates to power-relations. 


What are you most looking forward to in this collaboration? 

I look forward to seeing how this idea of ‘’reversing the gaze’’ will be related to empirical research, and also how this will connect to debates on decolonization. The idea of ‘reversing the gaze’ can be very helpful, if it is related  directly to global and local power relations, also for highlighting the ambiguities around decolonization. At first, decolonization seems to be a self-evident notion, but it is important to go deeper into the ambiguities and complications that emerge as soon as we try to make it concrete in specific contexts.


What is your envisioned outcome of this project?

Anthropology should be about giving others a voice, which is why it is critical that diverse perspectives and positions in global networks are reflected. This is undoubtedly the case within this project. A danger for especially anthropologists is that “reversing the gaze“ inspires an obsession with self-reflexivity which can end up ‘muting’ the voice of the Other. “Reversing the gaze“ must be most explicitly in making other voices to be heard.


4 QUESTIONS TO… Elísio Macamo

”I am committed to the old-fashioned view that there is only one science.”

Elísio Macamo is a Professor of Sociology and African Studies at the University of Basel. He is one of the Principal Investigators in the Reversing the Gaze“ project, and leads the case study on “Strangers in our midst”.


Can you explain your research area in three sentences?

Firstly, and most importantly, I am concerned with the knowledge that we produce about Africa, i.e. I am interested in the methodologies used to bring it about and worried about the quality of that knowledge. Secondly, I am interested in how we, as academics, can make knowledge about Africa relevant to the various disciplines. Thirdly, I am committed to the idea of science, and, for this reason, I attempt to contribute to it by working on how best to produce knowledge.


What key questions would you like to answer in your case study?

What I am aiming to show is that there are no boundaries to knowledge. I am interested in using questions raised in connection with Africa to shed light on Switzerland’s fundamental issues. If we manage to do that, we will essentially reveal that science’s boundaries do not lie where we tend to think they do.


What is your envisioned outcome of the overall project?

This project’s overall goal is to engage in broader discussions about topics such as post-colonialism, decoloniality and epistemological hegemony. These have been going on for 30 or 40 years. They are important debates. They take issue with the central place that certain regions occupy in knowledge production and the assumption that this is highly problematic. There is the suggestion that there is a non-European science, and I’m not happy with that. I am committed to the old-fashioned view that there is only one science, and if we can meet our stated research goals, we would make a significant contribution to this broader debate. We will demonstrate that there is only one science, and that is what we should focus on.


What are you most looking forward to in this collaboration?

I am thrilled about the whole project and its originality. I am also very excited about the two doctoral students, Tebuho Winnie Kanyimba and Matthias Maurer Rueda. I am looking forward to seeing how they will overcome the challenge of doing African Studies research in Switzerland.

Overall, it is stimulating to work with the whole project team. It is brilliant. I highly respect the work of my colleagues and love what they have done so far. I can learn so much from them, and it is exciting to have the opportunity to work so closely with them. Lastly, I’m excited about the resonance of our project, if we do our work well, there will be responses, and if we do our work exceptionally well, these responses will be extreme. We might have to brace up some rough times as the debates we engage with address controversial topics.