ANNUAL CONFERENCE 2002 : Arusha, Tanzania 8th –12th April 2002
Perspectives on Time and Society: Experience, Memory, History

Summary of panels held

The 2002 conference of the Association of Social Anthropologists of the UK and Commonwealth (ASA) was held at the training centre of a Danish NGO (MS-TCDC) in Arusha, Tanzania. Attracting 110 participants from almost twenty countries, the conference had a packed schedule, with 75 papers in 14 different themed panels over the course of five days, not to mention four key-note speakers and a host of more informal seminars, discussions and evening events. The event was run as a single-stream conference, with panels tackling different aspects of the conference focus on social experiences and historical understandings of time. A particular strength of the conference was the way that it brought together anthropologists, sociologists, archaeologists and historians, opening up a valuable and all-too-rare set of interdisciplinary conversations.

The large number of papers presented a logistical challenge to the ASA tradition of single-stream conferences, as it left each person with only ten minutes to present. This was surmounted in a number of ways. In the months before the conference, extended 1500-2500 word abstracts were requested from paper-givers, which were in turn bound and sent out as pre-conference reading to all participants. At the conference itself, panels were encouraged to hold their own informal seminars to prepare or continue discussion themes, and all participants were given a CD-Rom with the full papers. Finally the panels’ co-chairs astutely dealt with time’s more pragmatic demands, and we were rarely late for lunch! The convenors would like to thank the paper presenters and panel chairs for their equanimous co-operation with the demands placed on them.

Events laid on to leaven the conference’s intellectual brew included two evening receptions (one hosted by the ASA, and the second by James Currey and African Books Collective publishing houses), a trip to the Arusha National Park, a film-screening, and drumming by the Ngoma troupe. On the last night, after a Conference dinner, music from the Yekete band filled the dance-floor. On a more sombre note, a trip to the International Criminal Tribunal on Rwanda was also arranged, including a visit to a trial in session.

One aim of the conference had been to develop links between the ASA and sister anthropological organisations, and this process is now underway. Dr Mwenda Ntarangwi spoke on behalf of the East-African Anthropological Association (EAAA), and also stepped in for Professor Paul Nkwi to lead a workshop on the work of the Pan African Anthropological Association (PAAA). Paul Lane spoke about the British Institute in Eastern Africa (BIEA), and Dr Mustafa Babiker made a short a presentation on the work of OSSREA (Organisation for Social Science Research in Eastern and Southern Africa) in supporting the social scientific research in Africa.

The conference convenors, Professor Wendy James and Dr David Mills, would like to express their thanks to all those who helped to make the conference a success. They were ably assisted in the planning of the event by a local advisory panel  - Dr Baye Yimam, Dr Alula Pankhurst, Dr Mustafa Babiker, Professor Abdel Ghaffar Mohammed Ahmed, Dr Paul Wani Gore, Dr Nakanyike Musisi, Dr Charles Rwabukwali, Professor Paul Achola, Professor Collete Suda, Professor Joshua Akonga, Dr Paul Lane, Dr Hassan Wario Arero, Dr C. Comoro and Dr J. Chileshe. The organisational complexities of the conference were more than matched by the deft administrative skills of Rohan Jackson and his indomitable lap-top. 

Generous financial support from the Ford Foundation and OSSREA enabled the participation of almost forty African-based scholars, with Ethiopia, Eritrea, Sudan, Kenya, Tanzania, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Nigeria and Uganda all represented. A British Academy grant supported the travel of sixteen participants from Britain, and two others were assisted by the Swan Fund at Oxford University. A grant from the RAI (Royal Anthropological Institute) enabled the travel of two of the conference’s four key-note speakers – all of whom delivered provocative and stimulating lectures. Thanks go to Professor Johannes Fabian, Dr Christine Obbo, Professor Richard Fardon and Dr Paul Abungu. Thanks are also due to the ASA for providing a grant to support the travel and subsistence of members and scholars from the region. Finally the convenors would like to express their appreciation to all the staff at MS-TCDC in Arusha for their good-humoured welcome and for making their centre into the consummate conference venue.

Given the high quality of the presentations and panels, the convenors envisage a significant number of publications arising from the conference. A volume provisionally entitled ‘The Qualities of Time’, including ethnographic case-studies that tackle the main conference themes, has been proposed to Routledge for publication in their ASA Monograph Series.  Proposals for further edited volumes are also in hand. To date these include a volume provisionally entitled ‘Lifetimes Intertwined: Grandparents and Grandchildren in Africa’ edited by Paul Geissler, Susan Whyte and Erdmute Alber, and another provisionally entitled ‘Practising Anthropology in post-colonial Africa’, with Mustafa Babiker, David Mills and Mwenda Ntarangwi as editors. Richard Reid and Uoldeluol Chelati are also in discussion with the British Institute of East Africa over the possible publication of an edited volume on the histories of nationalisms and regional identities in Eastern Africa. Further papers and sets of papers will be recommended by the convenors to journals such as Africa and Azania for publication.