Professor of History and Anthropology
Interim Director, James S. Coleman African Studies Center
My educational background in philosophy and sociocultural anthropology has shaped my critical approach to cultural and historical interpretation, with an emphasis on West Africa and the Black Atlantic.
My first major study—Black Critics and Kings: The Hermeneutics of Power in Yoruba Society (Chicago, 1992)—informs my subsequent Afro-Atlantic explorations of creolization, gender and sexuality. A second study, The Pan-African Nation: Oil and the Spectacle of Culture in Nigeria (Chicago, 2005), highlights the contradictions of Nigeria’s oil economy through the mirror of cultural production, and has lead to my more recent reflections on the performative dimensions of black cultural citizenship. In the more technical vein of sociolinguistics, I have developed a model of critical agency that is grounded in vernacular ritual language genres, and contributes to the decolonization of Africanist scholarship, as I argue in Beyond Words: Discourse and Critical Agency in Africa (Chicago, 2007).
When I shifted to UCLA in 2003 (history and anthropology departments) after thirteen years at the University of Chicago (anthropology), I gravitated toward the complex historicities of Afro-Atlantic ritual “archives,” initially framed in my co-edited volume (with Robin Derby), Activating the Past: History and Memory in the Black Atlantic World (Newcastle upon Tyne, 2010). As a founding member of our department’s Atlantic History Cluster, I am currently pursuing two related lines of research. The first critically reformulates Afrocentric cultural dynamics in the shaping of New World historical trajectories, as developed in my collected Yoruba-centered essays on this topic, Oduduwa’s Chain: Locations of Culture in the Yoruba-Atlantic (Chicago, 2018). The second, entitled History in the Dungeon: Atlantic Slavery and the Spirits of Capitalism (in progress), reinterprets the rise of Atlantic slavery through its variably commodified and fetishized forms, a project that focuses on slave forts and castles and restores enslaved Africans (and their hyper-alienated labor power) to the historically repressed epicenters of capitalist modernity.
- PhD Yale University (Anthropology), 1987
- MA Yale University (Anthropology), 1982
- BA Cambridge University (Social Anthropology), 1980
- BA Yale University (Philosophy), 1978
Oduduwa’s Chain: Locations of Culture in the Yoruba-Atlantic (University of Chicago Press, 2018).
Activating the Past: History and Memory in the Black Atlantic World, Co-edited with Lauren Derby, (Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2010)
Beyond Words: Discourse and Critical Agency in Africa (University of Chicago Press, 2007)
The Pan-African Nation: Oil and the Spectacle of Culture in Nigeria (University of Chicago Press, 2005)
Black Critics and Kings: The Hermeneutics of Power in Yoruba Society (University of Chicago Press, 1992)
Articles & Chapters
2021 “Festac 77: A Black World’s Fair,” Oxford Research Encyclopedia of African History.https://doi.org/10.1093/acrefore/9780190277734.013.798
Published online: 31 August
2017 “Queer Crossings: Kinship, Gender and Sexuality in Igboland and Carriacou,” Journal of West African History 3 (2): 39-66.
2017 “Ethnographic X-Files and Holbraad’s Double-Bind: Reflections on an Ontological Turn of Events,” Hau: Journal of Ethnographic Theory 7 (1): 287-302.
2017 “History in the Dungeon: Atlantic Slavery and the Spirit of Capitalism in Cape Coast Castle, Ghana,” American Historical Review 122 (1): 23-54.
2016 “Beyond Négritude: Black Cultural Citizenship and the Arab Question in FESTAC 77,” Journal of African Cultural Studies 28 (3): 313-326.
2016 “Recasting Ifá: Historicity and Recursive Recollection in Ifá Divination Texts.” In Jacob K. Olupona and Rowland O. Abiodun eds. Ifá Divination, Knowledge, Power, and Performance. Indiana University Press, 43-49.
2014 “Modernization Theory and the Figure of Blindness: Filial Reflections.” In S. Miescher, P. Bloom, T. Manu, eds. Modernization as Spectacle in Africa. Indiana University Press, 41-61.
2013 “M.G. Smith on the Isle of Lesbos: Kinship and Sexuality in Carriacou,” New West Indian Guide 87 (issue 3-4): 273-293.
2013 “The Blood of Mothers: Women, Money and Markets in Yoruba Atlantic Perspective,” Journal of African American History 98 (1): 72-98. Special Issue on Women, Slavery, and the Atlantic World, ed. Brenda S. Stevenson.
2013 “Yoruba Ethnogenesis from Within,” Comparative Studies in Society and History 55 (2): 356-387. Online edition: Cambridge Journals Online.
2012 ““Matrilineal Motives: Kinship, Witchcraft and Repatriation among Congolese Refugees,” Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute18 (1): 22-44.
2005 “Griaule’s Legacy: Rethinking ‘la parole claire’ in Dogon Studies,” Cahiers d’Études Africaines 177, XLV (1): 95-129.
2004 “Herskovits’s Heritage: Rethinking Syncretism in the African Diaspora.” In A.M Leopold and J.S. Jensen, eds. Syncretism in Religion: A Reader. New York: Routledge, 160-184. Reprinted from Diaspora 1 (3), 1991: 235-260.
2002 “On African Origins: Creolization and Connaissance in Haitian Vodou,” American Ethnologist 29 (2): 233-260.
2002 “On Imperial Spectacle: The Dialectics of Seeing in Colonial Nigeria,” Comparative Studies in Society and History 44 (3): 564-96.
1999 “Africa, Empire, and Anthropology: A Philological Exploration of Anthropology’s Heart of Darkness,” Annual Review of AnthropologyVol. 28: 577-98.
West Africa (Yoruba, Nigeria)
The African Diaspora (Haiti, Dominican Republic, Cuba)
History of Anthropology