Impression Researching Africa in the 21st Century Class 2

Impression Second Lecture

It is a beautiful Monday morning of the second week of our MA African Studies and second class of our Researching Africa in the 21st Century course.

Incredible how fast a group can bond when united together towards a shared struggle, in our case, the fast-paced courses in the coming eleven weeks while also writing our research proposal and arranging an internship in Africa. While we quietly entered class the week before waiting for the lecture to start with some shattered whispering here and there we now eagerly discuss our gained insights and challenges since the first week.

To start Sjoerd showed us a short video of the first lecture combining the academic debates, presentations, teamwork and lecture into several minutes. Many smiles appeared while watching the video and our brains are getting started for the session of today.

Source: https://www.universiteitleiden.nl/en/staffmembers/jan-sleutels#tab-1

We had the privilege to welcome the philosopher Jan Sleutels who would enlighten us about what the digital did to us regarding personal thoughts and connections. To reinforce his knowledge about the topic he opened a visually appealing Prezi presentation that can be accesses by all online. Even while he got into the middle of his presentation he improvised a question about the game of Set and quickly fixed the technical error.

So what is the digital in the first place? Several scholar have tried to answer this question that resulted into three modes of thinking. Personally I liked the definition that digital is neither here not there.

For some it was an exodus from physical reality, funny, because these days many young people have to escape from their smartphones and social media into the ‘wild’, the real world. Within only twenty years people might have become so virtual it needs effort to come back to reality. Jan explained that virtual is the place of imagination, a place where you leave the mortal reality and fragility and enters or create something immortal.

Source: https://nl.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Matrix_Revolutions

The virtual could lead to alienation, to distancing oneself from the real world, but also to improvement, to make life easier. A crucial question to ask about the virtual is to ask what is real and what is not.

I could relate to this question because when I was a teenager and bachelor student I was already extremely passionate about history, the art of war, strategy and such. Strategy games have been my greatest passion since I was a child.

Especially in several games, in virtual worlds, I could become the commander defending my nation against all odds, use strategy to gain victory and develop tactical methods to outsmart my enemies. I spent countless hours playing these games, often at the cost of other responsibilities in the real world. My life in those virtual worlds was glorious and interesting, yet it was fake, not real. Luckily I have come to realize this and abandon those virtual worlds for the real world over the last years (and fortunately also had/have an interesting life in the real world).

I got the same feeling about Real vs Fake during Jan’s lecture as Safety vs Freedom. He argued that virtual in many cases was the safe option, the option that minimized risk and optimized security. Do you want to stick to the safe roads, or get off track and look for adventure. You want to be secure, or free? Personally I am the person that is really inspired and interested in the concept of freedom, both for myself as individual as for a nation or community.

Source: https://nl.pinterest.com/pin/364299057334930054/

A fitting example was Henny the Chicken, do you want to buy the virtual and perfect chicken in the supermarket (yet it is ‘fake’) or slaughter and prepare the real chicken Henny that promises to be the most tasteful chicken you will ever eat, but might include disease, might not be enough combined with the fact that you have to kill it by yourself.

While for the other examples we voted like a typical humanities group (mixed with some preferences) compared to TU Delft students (100% virtual and security) this question about the chicken really set us apart. Most of us would slaughter Henny compared to the other humanities that would prefer to buy from the supermarket. I expect this has something to do with the Africa that we share, a bit more connected to the real life instead of the virtual. Or we just like tasty chicken 😛

Another interesting thought was that technology made the real change in history, while people have stayed the same. We already traveled, loved, communicated and worked for ages however it is the present technology that truly changed the way how we do this or think about it.

After the interesting lecture we tried to link Jan’s provocative lecture to our personal research in Africa. We talked a bit about the rules of academic expression and reflection, about the academic standards that remain the same even while doing virtual or digital research instead of written forms.

Source: http://behoudblauwegolvenarnhem.blogspot.com

We concluded the lecture with an introduction of Sjoerd about himself as a film maker and his connection to Africa. As I hope to research (and possibly even contribute to) non-violent revolution in Africa I was particularly inspired by the quote of: ‘Art is the Mother of Resistance’ as I indeed see art as a crucial factor in awakening and uniting people towards a shared struggle.

Thanks for reading the blog and see you all tomorrow!

Erik

 

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