The workshop will critically revisit Paul Gilroy's contribution to the anthropological study of African and African American cultures with a particular emphasis on new conceptual developments and the politics of scholarship.
Disrupting notions of simple linear relations between African and African American cultures, and replacing searches for 'roots' with an epistemology aiming to trace 'routes' of intercontinental movement and cultural exchange, Paul Gilroy's The Black Atlantic posed a powerful challenge to the anthropology of African American cultures. Arguing that the demographic, economic and cultural flows (and counter-flows) between Africa, the Americas and Europe represented both focus and fulcrum for the emergence of western 'modernity', Gilroy urged the recuperation of a 'countermodernity' that emerged among enslaved Africans, and which has since become a template for increasingly global processes of cultural and ideological production. This panel will critically revisit Gilroy's contribution to the debate on the emergence of racial subjectivities and systems of domination in the larger Atlantic basin and their significance for an anthropology of capitalist modernity. But it also seeks to probe the range of concepts such as 'Black Atlantic', 'African Diaspora' and 'Afro-Atlantic World' from epistemological vantage points that remained peripheral to Gilroy's original account. These include Africa itself, Latin America, the non-Anglophone Caribbean, and the African and/or black presence in Europe. Finally, we encourage critical perspectives on the politicisation of 'Black Atlantic' scholarship itself – eg in regards to new racial or cultural essentialisms, or the monopoly North American and European scholars have, so far, exerted over the debate. What we call the 'Black Atlantic' was never politically innocent. But it is less so now than it ever was. Thus, our aim is not just to celebrate a key contribution to the debate about 'multiple modernities' but to also reintegrate African Americanist anthropology into the historically sensitive, translocally oriented and politically engaged vanguard of anthropological theorising which it once, arguably, anticipated.