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Theories and the Empirical in African Studies


Admission requirements

For students who have successfully completed the two courses in the first semester. Those from other MA programs may be admitted with prior registration (contact coordinator).


In this stage of the programme of the research masters the students have to prepare their theoretical orientation for their research. In order to facilitate their choices, but also to ‘discover’ what theory is, the students will be introduced to the conceptual/ theoretical considerations and choices of various senior researchers. How did they relate to theory while developing their research? What were the guiding theories and concepts for them? And how did they work for them during the analysis or even the data gathering. This should however be linked to more general literature on the concepts.

In this course we present the theories, i.e. ‘thinking models’ under four themes that we have chosen as fields that have proven relevant for the study of Africa. Each of these themes has a different corpus of theories that will be presented to the students. There will be seven be lectures/seminars per theme. The first lecture of each theme will be broad, introducing the theoretical basis and laying the foundation for the other lectures in the module.

The four themes will be:

Theme Coordinated by: I Power, and Access to resources K. van Walraven II Economy and food A. Leliveld III Consumption and technology J-B Gewald IV Expression and popular culture D. Merolla Each theme will have a coordinator who, in addition to his/her own lectures will be present throughout the block, both to help tie the various lectures together and to supervise the student seminars.

The blocks will be held together by common themes which will recur in all, or at least most, of them. The most important of these lies in the interaction, between, on the one hand, globalisation and on the other, local manifestations and developments. This overlaps with, but is certainly not coincident with, the interaction between innovation and the deep structures of the longue durée in African history. These relationships need to be made explicit at the beginning of the course, and to recur during each of the blocks. Other themes which may recur would include forms of religion, law, security and health. It can be expected, for instance, that matters of physical security would be addressed in the block on power, food security in the economics block and philosophical and religious discourses on security in the expression block.

Course objectives

At the end of the course, students

  • Students will learn how theoretical insights can be integrated to their field research.

  • Students should be able to begin writing a full proposal, and should therefore have both decided on the topic and have mastered the most important literature on the subject.

  • The course is designed to deepen each student’s understanding of Africa, and simultaneously to provide a forum in which the development of his/her research topic can be furthered.


Mondays: 11:00-16:00 hrs
Thursdays: 11:00-16:00 hrs

Mode of instruction

Lectures and Seminar:

Course Load

  • The course comprises 15 EC and the total course load is 420 hrs

  • 78 hrs of these will be spent attending lectures (28 × 2 hrs lectures in 8 weeks + assignment presentations)

  • 150 hrs to be spent on studying compulsory literature: 130 pages literature per week

  • 180 hrs research and writing assignment papers

  • 10 hrs will be spent in group discussion and feedback sessions

  • 2 hrs. mentor sessions

Assessment method

Student evaluation will be based on four assignment papers and presentation in class. Every two weeks the students will have a practical assignment to work on the theories discussed, if possible in relation to their own thesis research. The second Thursday of each block will be reserved for the presentation of assignments in class. Based on feedback in class, students submit a revised final paper on Monday or a date agreed upon with the instructor running the module.


Students registered for the course will be enrolled. Course information, teaching material, assignment papers and feedback are exchanged via Blackboard.

Reading list

The booktitles and / or syllabi to be used in the course, where it can be purchased and how this literature should be studied beforehand.
A list of compulsory and recommended articles is stated in the detailed course programme for each lecture (the programme is made available via Blackboard, latest a week before the courses start). The material are available in the different libraries of the University and the African Studies Centre. Students must study the compulsory literature of each lecture beforehand.


Enrollment through uSis for the course and the examination or paper is mandatory.

Prospective students, please check the Study Abroad/Exchange website
for information on how to apply.


Dr. Azeb Amha
P O Box 9555, 2300 RB Leiden, NL
Tel. +31-71-527-3364


Among the instructors listed above, four are module instructors, streamlining the link among the various guest lectures within a module and look into the evaluation of students’ papers and make sure students get comprehensive and timely feedback on their essays.