Thinking “indigeneity” from the South and southern Africa

Scott Burnett and Gabeba Baderoon

Scott Burnett, Assistant Professor of African Studies and Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies

Gabeba Baderoon, Associate Professor of WGSS, African Studies and Comparative Literature

Indigenous scholarship has made crucial interventions in resisting the legitimation of the colonial nation state and its associated knowledge projects in diverse research fields, including critical race theory, political ecology, literature, and environmental science. These contributions have arisen in part out of successful and on-going political projects of claim staking against powerful settler-colonial states: by the Maōri in New Zealand, by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders in Australia, by Hawaiian, Inuit and Native American nations in the U.S. and Canada, by Sámi people in Norway, Sweden, and Finland, and by a variety of Indigenous nations in Central and South America. While there are active political movements in the African context that organize under the rubric of Indigeneity, the concept is nonetheless a fraught one. Warnings about the dangers of a “politics of autochthony” (Geschiere and Nyamnjoh, 2000) and of the exclusionary and essentialist pitfalls of certain types of Indigenous organizing (Adhikari, 2004; Verbuyst, 2021) in Africa are common. While there are regional variations in this politics and in how they are critiqued, the dynamics of the southern African region are instructive. With the dominance of scholarship on apartheid and, more recently, of debates on slavery, Indigeneity Studies has been a muted area of research, except in relation to Khoi and San people. The establishment of the San and Khoi Centre at the University of Cape Town in 2020 and the resulting profusion of publications, including the award-winning Ausi Told Me, has shifted these dynamics. The scholarship that has emerged from the Centre advances a feminist as well as Indigenous approach and includes a focus on knowledge production. One of the authors of this proposal, Gabeba Baderoon, holds the Sarah Baartman Senior Fellowship in the Centre for 2023 and will share insights from this residency in the Centre with the proposed Indigenous Studies Reading Group.


This series of colloquia thus aims to bring together several scholars at PSU who separately work on Indigeneity and in African Studies to bring Indigenous Studies work from around the world into conversation with African scholarship and problems, and to address the complex questions that arise from this alignment.


Meeting Schedule

Each meeting will discuss one to two readings from Indigeneity Studies outside of Africa and an equivalent number from the African context.

  • September 2023 – kick-off meeting: Indigenous knowledge at ‘land-grab’ universities
  • October 2023 – Knowledge systems
  • November 2023 – Climate justice
  • January 2024 – Nationalism and sovereignty
  • February 2024 – Literary scholarship / Indigeneity in literature
  • March 2024 – Khoi and San issues in southern Africa
  • April 2024 – Invited speaker
  • May 2024 – a roundtable colloquium for members to offer short reflection papers