Thursday, 20 October 2011

The Commonwealth in the world: governance, resistance & change

The Commonwealth in the world: governance, resistance & change

Please find below the details of the seminar 'The Commonwealth in the world: governance, resistance and change', organised by the Institute of Commonwealth Studies, the Commonwealth Advisory Bureau (CA/B) and the Université Paris Diderot. The first seminar will take place on 1 November 2011 in London and the second one in Spring 2012 in Paris.

The Commonwealth in the world: governance, resistance and change Occasional Seminar Series Institute of Commonwealth Studies Commonwealth Advisory Bureau (CA/B) and Université Paris Diderot

Pascal Bianchini: Anti-colonial scholarship: (re) discovering Jean Suret-Canale
Tuesday, 1 November, 12:30-14:30
Institute of Commonwealth Studies
Senate House - Room ST275

How is it possible to lead two extraordinary careers in a same life? Jean Suret-Canale was a politically committed intellectual and a pathfinder in African history (though he was in fact a geographer). He could be compared to Basil Davidson with whom he had epistolary exchange. As Davidson, Suret-Canale was involved in the Resistance during the Second World War and tried to disentangle African history from its colonial bias.

Suret-Canale published some major volumes read by generations of African intellectuals and militants in the 1960's and the 1970's and many of them were translated into several languages (English, Spanish, Portuguese, German, Russian, Japanese and even Chinese...) His correspondence reveals that he was in contact with some major intellectual and political figures from Africa (Ruben Um Nyobe, Sekou Toure, Mongo Beti, Mario de Andrade...) or with major academic figures working on Africa (Melville Herskovits, Walter Markov, Henri Brunschvig...).

Though Suret-Canale played a major role as a founding father in African studies, he was only appointed by a French university at the age of 57 and ended his academic career in the relatively junior position of assistant professor. This paradox is a major clue to a non-French audience about the reality of French African studies. Suret-Canale, in the interview he gave to Pascal Bianchini, (Suret-Canale. De la résistance à l'anticolonialisme) explained his setbacks in the French academe by his membership of the Communist Party (he was a member of the Central Committee and assistant director of Centre for Marxist Studies and Research in the 1960's) and his official status of geographer while his main work was in African history.

In addition, his personal story reveals that his consistent anti-colonial commitment had prevented him from making a career matching his international influence. Unfortunately, since the 1980's, he has been rejected and/or forgotten by contemporary French Africanists. He has also been criticized by African militants for his alleged support to Sekou Toure, the leader of independence in Guinea where Suret-Canale worked and lived from 1959 to 1963.

However, whatever criticism can be levelled at his political positions, his intellectual contribution to the decolonisation process is important and echoes through to the 'postcolonial debate' that occurred in recent years in France. Suret-Canale's name remains completely unknown to a new generation.

Attendance is free but contact Dr Leo Zeilig ( and Dr Mélanie Torrent ( if you want to attend.

This seminar series arises from a double objective: to encourage research on transnational, transregional and international history, and to stimulate contacts between researchers across national spheres and academic disciplines. The history and current politics of the Commonwealth of Nations can only be fully understood when related to transformations occurring in other parts of the world and this seminar intends to focus on connections and encounters - be they governmental or non-governmental, open or secret, intentional or accidental, multilateral or bilateral, elite or grassroots.

This seminar series also arises from discussions held within the Commonwealth and Democracy Network, formed in June 2010 following the Round Table Centenary Conference on Democracy in the Commonwealth.

Investigating long-term evolutions, this seminar series hopes to generate debate on the processes of governance and regime change in the Commonwealth world from an international - but not necessarily strictly comparative - perspective. If national systems of governance and government institutions will be investigated, the scope of the seminar series is wider, also focusing on the governance at work in multilateral organisations (regional or international) and in non-governmental bodies.

The heart of the seminar series will be the Commonwealth of Nations, as an association of people, civil society groups and member governments which is open to the world and entertains constant discussion with non-members.

Papers presented at the seminar series will therefore be relevant for the study of Commonwealth history and politics but will not be solely focused on intra-Commonwealth affairs. Diplomacy, trade, migration or travel generate transnational networks and the formal and informal circulation of ideas which results from all this will have a central part in this seminar series. The Commonwealth of Nations spans all continents and the seminar series will intentionally have no geographic restrictions. Surveying transformations from the transitions to independence to current debates on democracy, development and human rights, the seminar series hopes to give prominence to new international and transnational insights into Commonwealth transformations.

In order to reflect this approach, this seminar series will be organised jointly by the Institute of Commonwealth Studies/Commonwealth Advisory Bureau at the University of London, and the Université Paris Diderot. This decision comes from the strong belief that relations between France and Britain, and between the French-speaking and English-speaking worlds in the post-independence era, have been rather neglected in the study of governance processes and resistance to oppression. This, however, does not restrict the seminar series to this dual approach - although papers will be presented in either French or English, for practical purposes. We are aware that attendance to both London-based and Paris-based seminars might be difficult and we intend to offer registered participants the possibility of accessing papers.

The inaugural seminar will be held at the Institute of Commonwealth Studies on 1 November, 12.30-14.30. Rm. ST275, Senate House, University of London. 'Anti-colonial scholarship: (re)discovering Jean Suret-Canale'

Pascal Bianchini. The joint organisers, Mélanie Torrent and Leo Zeilig, will also use the opportunity of the first seminar to present the series in further detail to the participants and exchange ideas.

The second seminar will be held at the Université Paris Diderot in the Spring of 2012 and will be followed by a discussion on future projects and areas of interest for the seminar series in 2012-2013.

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