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LEC.320: Africa:Geographies of Transformation

Department: Lancaster Environment Centre NCF Level: FHEQ/QCF/NQF6//RQF6
Study Level: Part II (yr 3) Credit Points: 15.0
Start Date: 12-01-2015 End Date: 01-05-2015
Available for Online Enrolment?: Y Enrolment Restriction: Only available to students where listed in programme syllabus rules
Module Convenor: Dr SAF Vermeylen

Syllabus Rules and Pre-requisites

CMod description


    The aim of this module is to examine the processes of socio-economic, political and legal transformations of African societies. Within this framework the course provides a critical assessment of colonial and post-colonial theories. It involves the study of rural and urban African landscapes and acknowledges the many challenges to be faced in areas of political, socio-economic and cultural  governance. You will be encouraged to discover not only the challenges and crises that African countries are facing but also the resilience and resurgence that characterises the African experience. You will learn to critically assess different methods of development ranging from high-tech market-based Western solutions to programmes that strengthen indigenous and local skills and knowledge systems.  The course will represent a multitude of voices; findings from Euro-American scholars will be compared and contrasted with the opinions of African scholars. This module will 'demystify' and 'decolonise' persistent mainstream perceptions of Africa as the 'dark continent' characterised by a single set of problems and challenges. The course is designed in such a way that you will experience the huge cultural, political, economic and social diversity of Africa through engaging with a diverse set of case studies and giving a voice to a 'silenced' Africa.

Curriculum Design: Outline Syllabus

  • Each week will consist of an introductory lecture followed by a linked class workshop/seminar discussion based around key readings and case studies. In addition the work of African novelist will be discussed in small groups over 5 weeks.

    Week 1 - Introduction to the Course

    This session will introduce students to some key readings and concepts and structure of the course will be further explored.

    Week 2 – Pre-colonial, Colonial and Post-Colonial History

    This session will explore the changing socio-political, cultural and economic structures in pre-, colonial and post-colonial Africa.

    Week 3 – Representations of Africa

    This session will give an overview of how the ‘dark continent’ is portrayed in different cultural settings by the media, art, NGOs, governments, public, etc. These representations will be compared and contrasted with, on the one hand, our own perceptions of Africa and, on the other hand, how Africans see themselves.

    Week 4 – African Reactions

    Picking up the debate from week 3, we will be looking how Africans responded to the racial stereotyping during colonial and post-colonial times. We will in particular discuss the work of Frantz Fanon.

    Week 5 – Postcolonial theory

    In this transition session we will be exploring the work of key authors and their contribution to post-colonial theory which is the critical and theoretical lens through which we study political, socio-economic and cultural transitions in different African regions and countries.  

    Week 6 – Urban African landscapes

    The politics of urban livelihoods in the African context are explored, including the economic, physical and social dimensions of sustainable urban living. Three dimensions of urban livelihoods will be further examined: making a living, maintaining social networks and setting up collective actions.

     Week 7 – African rural landscapes

    This session will explore the challenges, constraints and opportunities of rural communities. This lecture examines how rural communities manage their livelihood, welfare, development and survival in response to a changing socio-political, economic and ecological environments. Coping and responding to vulnerability is part of rural communities’ daily practice and has influenced the relationship between rural and urban areas and between rich and poor. Examples will be given of communities that have proven resilient and have been able to rebuild their agricultural activities in areas that were previously devastated by food shortage. However, it is important not to idealise or romanticise rural livelihoods. Rural communities still face hardship and livelihood diversity is one of the responses to the many risks and challenges of rural Africa. These challenges will be explored within the context of an image that has been produced about Africa as being a continent that has created its own degraded landscape by plundering and mismanaging its own natural resources. We will explore in this session the implications of these misrepresentations and show how this has led to a research agenda that has been asking the wrong questions and producing inadequate diagnoses.  

    Week 8 – Land Tenure Reform

    In this session we will explore in more detail the concept of tangible (e.g. land) property and how it influences the relationship between development and environment. Using landscape as a theoretical foundation we will explore how property and landscapes of property (in particular land) can be linked to human processes and we will examine the relation between myths of land and regimes of property. In this session, landscape epitomises a history of property relations in which the physical reality and the collective recollection of dispossession gives us insights into the different meanings of land in different narratives at different scales.

    Week 9 – Geo-power, governance and politics (role of the chief)

    In this session the social and political processes in Africa will be examined against the background of colonialism and post-colonialism. Particular attention will be given to a number of general principles that govern in many African states the interplay between centralisation and decentralisation; between governments and local chiefs and between modern law and customary law.

    Week 10 – Geo-power, governance and politics (identity and violence)

    In the last session we will focus on the concept of violence and civil wars in Africa and explore how these conflicts have impacted upon state formation and subsequently challenged the western concept
    of the rule of law and sovereign states. The African state will be examined and understood from an ‘emic’ perspective

Curriculum Design: Pre-requisites/Co-requisites/Exclusions

  • Normally successful conmpletion of second year Geography courses as Major, Joint Major or Minor student

Curriculum Design: Single, Combined or Consortial Schemes to which the Module Contributes

  • BA and BSc Hons Geography
    BA and BSc Hons Geography with study in USA/Canada
    BA Human Geography
    BA Human Geography with study in N America/Canada
    All BA Joint Honours Degrees involving Geography
  • 50% Exam
  • 50% Coursework

Assessment: Details of Assessment

  • One two hour exam (2 questions) in May/June
    One 2000 word assignment

Educational Aims: General: Knowledge, Understanding and Skills


    The course consists of lectures and seminars. Students will use the knowledge gained throughout the lectures and home study to discuss and analyse case studies that will be discussed in the seminars. Students will learn how to question statements and formulate their own opinion. Students will be encouraged to express their knowledge and understanding of the topic in small group discussion during the seminars.

Learning Outcomes: Subject Specific: Knowledge, Understanding and Skills

  • On successful completion of this module students will be able to:

    a) Demonstrate in writing (exam and coursework) a concise understanding of the topic  

    b.) Analyse news facts from Africa in different sorts of media by applying the learned material

    c.) Effectively learn practical skills such as debating and group discussion

    d)  Synthesise the pre-colonial, colonial and post-colonial history of Africa 

    e.)  Understand different models of development

    f.)  Critically engage with current perceptions of Africa in newspapers, film, television, visual art, literature, etc.

    g) Evaluate different sources of academic writings and research; specifically understand the different approaches towards the subject from a Euro-American versus African perspective.

Contact Information

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