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20 Technology and Africana Studies

A Discussion of Organizational Issues

Abdul Alkalimat, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign

This paper is addressing the issue of organization as an important dimension of the academic discipline of Africana Studies. The issue of organization is important because it is the social relationships and the method of aggregating individuals for purposeful behavior of reviewing existing knowledge and creating and disseminating new knowledge. Black Studies faces the organizational question on the local campus as well as at the national level of a pro­fes­sion­al organization.

The Three Organizational Faces of Black Studies

There are three types of paradigmatic roles that Black Studies fac­ulty and students have mastered over time. These three roles are the activist, the scholar, and the spider. For each of these roles there is a broader conception of the organizational character of Black Studies. These are: Black Studies as social movement, as academic profession, and as knowledge network.

Three Stages of Black Studies

            Organizational Form                    Key Social Role
Black Studies as Social Movement Activist
Black Studies as Academic Profession Scholar
Black Studies as Knowledge Network Spider

Black Studies as a social movement has to do with the way in which the Black Liberation movement, while being transformed under the ideological umbrella of Black Power, moved into higher education establishing a new battlefront for transformation. We can think of this as the dialectics of integration. Many of the organizational efforts that created the intellectual and cultural basis for Black Studies were outside of the university in the community based on the autonomous intellectual tradition and political tradition of the African American community. But the movement took shape as the first wave of Black college students hit the campus after the assassination of Martin Luther King. The 1960s began with less than 200,000 African American students in post-secondary education, and after the King assassination, by the beginning of the 1970s, there were over one million African American students enrolled in post-secondary education. These social movement organizational forms had to do with giving shape and coherence to the spontaneity of innovative Black thinking in action in local communities. Black Studies discourse took place in all of the largest Black communities.

On the campus the main expression of this social movement phase was the development of the Black Student Union. It was the first-generation college students who brought with them the politics of the Black community, that is the Black Liberation movement, onto the campus with the King enrollment. But in addition to this, there were organizations in the community that were the force transforming these young students and continuing to relate to them while they were on campus, constituting a campus-com­mu­ni­ty linkage. In addition, there were journals, that started as a reflection of the intellectual and cultural life of the African American community and represented the cutting edge of intellectual and ideological thinking. At this point it is clear that intellectual leadership of the Black Studies movement was coming from the com­mu­ni­ty and from the Black Liberation movement.

As soon as Black Studies began to develop on campus and simultaneously worked alongside Black Studies as a social movement, Black Studies began to reinvent itself as an academic profession. ­

Black Studies as Social Movement

                                   Organizations                                     Journals
Communiversity (Chicago) Negro Digest/Black World (Chicago)
Institute of the Black World (Atlanta) Journal of Black Poetry (San Francisco)
Peoples College (Nashville) Black Lines (Pittsburgh)
Malcolm X Liberation University (Durham) The Liberator (New York)
Organization of Black American Culture (Chicago) The Black Scholar (Oakland)
African Heritage Studies Association Soul Book (Los Angeles)
Freedomways (New York)

The academic professional activities that were normal for every program or department or discipline became the model for Black Studies. For the entire history of Black Studies, the dual identity of Black Studies as social movement and as academic profession has existed. The primary reason for this is that the issues of class and racism continue to haunt the Black community, hence the ever-present potential of spontaneity and struggle. Black Studies as social movement is always latent if not manifest in the behavior of the students, faculty, and community. On the other hand, as an ac­a­dem­ic profession, every year Black Studies has to meet the formal norms of each campus; hence, the stratification of higher education in the United States has dictated the historical development of Black Studies in that context. Even though Black Studies as an ac­a­dem­ic profession has its autonomous existence at the national level, in each instance at the local level the academic activities have to adapt to local campus norms in terms of organizational issues.

Black Studies as Academic Profession

                    Academic Practice                Black Studies Example
Professional Organization NCBS, ASALH, AHSA
Curriculum Text: Introduction to Afro-American Studies
Research Productivity Newsletter: Afro-Scholar 1983–1991
Public Policy Under count of the 1980 US Census
Community Service Murchison Community Center

However, we are now entering a new third stage. This is part of the information revolution, hence, Black Studies is being transformed into a knowledge network. A knowledge network is a linking together of individuals and programs on the basis of information technology. The new digital tools that we have can enable Black Studies to unite and to present a common face, the collective face, in all our variety to the world. And in this way, in cyberspace, Black Studies can be united.

The existence of Black Studies as a knowledge network is in its first phase. In this phase the academic practices of Black Studies as an academic profession are being transformed digitally into a virtual tool or manifestation. The five aspects of professional practice that we have identified as part of the academic profession (pro­­fes­sion­al discourse, teaching, research, public policy, and com­mu­ni­ty service) are all represented by a digital manifestation. In this example the five professional practices are identified as a knowledge network in terms of what we are doing at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Toledo. In each instance, the URL will take you to a website that will dem­on­strate how normal academic practices are carried on virtually.

Black Studies as Knowledge Network

                Professional Practice               Black Studies Examples
Professional Discourse Conference Online: New York 2003
Teaching Text Online
Research Project BAD
Public Policy 9/11: War or Peace
(No link available as of 3/27/19)
Community Service Cyberchurch

Paradigm Shift

The organization of scholarship and the structure of programs is not merely adding a new kind of technology, but entering a new stage of development. In order to highlight this, we have developed a review of methodology that includes the vital use of digital technology. We have a new “D7 Method.” The D7 Method includes conventional aspects of the scientific method or an em­pi­ri­cal approach to the study of phenomena, but includes both the issue of dig­i­ti­za­tion, which is the Black Studies of the future, as well as difference and advocacy, which maintains the concern for social change that comes out of the past and the origin of Black Studies. The critical point is digitization. The digitization of research in Black Studies and the digitization of communities as a form of community service can be the critical step to transform the next decade of Africana Studies. There are three great digitizations that are a part of this process: discourse, scholarship, and experiences. The method we call the D7 Method is an attempt to lay out systematically the steps that can be taught as a norm and how we carry out our research and curriculum development. The key innovation here has to do with D3, digitization. That is moving our information to cyberspace, hence making it collective, more democratic, cheaper to use, easier to carry out. This is the focus on actually changing the world, uniting with the community, embracing the concept of ad­vo­ca­cy. We have used the D7 method in the University of Toledo and present our experience as a model for the future of building and transforming discipline into a knowledge network.

The D7 Method

D1. Definition Defining the problem, summing up the relevant literature, formulating the research question and/or hypothesis
D2. Data Operating the variables, drawing a population sample, collecting data regarding the variables
D3. Digitization Inputting, scanning, otherwise putting the data on a computer, organized in some useful way
D4. Discovery Analyzing the data to test the hypothesis or answer the research question
D5. Design Laying out the data and analysis in text, tables, and figures to convey the findings to various audiences
D6. Dissemination Sharing the findings with the various audiences as widely and effectively as possible
D7. Difference Using the research to make a difference in your research community or the larger world

The digitization of discourse has changed the definition of community. In the past, discourse has been limited to people who have face-to-face relationships either on a campus or at national professional meetings. Otherwise, the discourse was really limited, taking place via telephone (one-to-one communication) or via mailings (one-to-many communication). However, with the digitization of discourse, such as a listserve discussion list or some form of web-based communication such as a bulletin board, one has instantaneous asynchronous many-to-many communication. H-Afro-Am is the largest digitization of discourse project. There are 2,500 Black Studies scholars and graduate students who are subscribed to this list for daily exchange of emails. In addition to the actual exchange of information on a daily basis, every post is archived and is searchable on the website.

Three Great Digitizations

  • Digitization of Discourse: Online communication for education, organization, and mobilization.
  • Digitization of Scholarship: Linking Black Studies scholarship online for global transparency and accessibility.
  • Digitization of Experience: Virtual community of everyday life including the struggles for survival and liberation.

The digitization of scholarship is a way of making the past and the present a simultaneous experience because of the ease with which one can retrieve a document once it’s been digitized. The digitization of scholarship is important because not only does it collectivize our knowledge, but it enables us to share our work and overcome any distinction that exists between the campus and the community. On the web all the information is equally available to everyone who has a computer or can get to a public library. This is important because every major research topic really requires collaboration not only by scholars who are in effect replicating each other’s work, but also by having a coordinated approach to the overwhelming research agenda of any major subject once one gets into the particularity of the issues that need to be taken up. So the digitization of scholarship begins to challenge the other forms of scholarships based upon both the speed and convenience that the web provides. The old approach includes waiting for presentations at annual professional meetings, the publication of quarterly professional journals, and of course book publication itself. The general trend toward a knowledge network is to increase the sharing of scholarship, which in general promotes and encourages more research and more publishing and therefore constitutes a win-win situation for everyone.

The digitization of experience is perhaps the largest area of dig­i­ti­­za­tion because it addresses a fundamental question regarding the digital divide. Most of the discussions of the digital divide have to do with owning and using computers and having access to the internet. Basically, the use of the computer and the internet have to do with surfing and downloading information that can be found on the World Wide Web. However, the digitization of experience puts a focus not on downloading other people’s information but rather on uploading information from individual research projects, in­di­vid­u­al communities, individual institutions, families, and individuals. The digitization of experience looks at the political culture of ev­e­ry­day life as the greatest reservoir of behavior and activity that constitutes access to the knowledge and wisdom of the Black community.

The organization of the digitization process does not need to have face-to-face synchronous relationships. This can lead to a tremendous reorganization of the field because it enables us to aggregate ourselves in even small groups with highly specialized topics regardless of where we are in the world and enables us to work effectively on a day-by-day basis.

The organization of Black Studies as a knowledge network is an important return to the ideological concern of Black Studies at the beginning, without the polemical character and divisive style of ide­o­log­i­cal groupings. In the beginning Black Studies wanted to continue to link the campus and the community. The knowledge network does that. In the initial stages Black Studies saw itself as mo­bi­liz­ing Black people around knowledge that could be used in transforming social life and making life better. A knowledge network enables people to aggregate, analyze, and advocate.

In sum, what I’ve attempted to outline is that there are three stages of Black Studies, or rather there are three simultaneous modes of operating. The activist, the scholar, and the spider are all hats that each of us can wear, sometimes separately, and sometimes simultaneously, because the activist must have a form of expression as a spider, and the scholar, too, must be able at times to take the form of the spider; and of course the best of all possible worlds is when Black Studies professionals take on all three identities and reproduce these identities in the students that we teach.


Technology and Africana Studies Copyright © 2018 by marilyn m. thomas-houston. All Rights Reserved.

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