Communication Currents

Special Issues Highlight Communication Studies from African Perspectives

March 1, 2022
Critical and Cultural Studies

Two recent issues of Review of Communication point to the discipline of Communication’s lack of attention to scholarship by African scholars, from African perspectives, and about Africa. In the introduction to the first special issue, guest editors Godfried A. Asante and Jenna N. Hanchey examine current work in African communication studies and the future of both African communication studies and the discipline. 

African Rhetoric and Communication Theory 

Asante and Hanchey note that research and teaching in rhetoric often traces the discipline back to the work of Ancient Greek and Roman scholars, such as Plato and Cicero. This work is often used uncritically as a starting point without considering other civilizations that existed prior to or in conjunction with the Greeks and Romans. In addition, scholarship in this area often fails to cite or refer to Black and African scholars. Asante and Hanchey offer several examples of scholars who have developed (re)theorizations of rhetoric and communication studies with a focus on African knowledge. They note that these scholars focus on the diverse experiences of Africans themselves and the communication patterns that have emerged from those experiences. 

African Health Communication 

Health communication has been a focus of recent scholarship about Africa published in leading Communication journals. Often, such scholarship focuses on HIV/AIDs, sexually transmitted infections, and diseases that could spark pandemics or epidemics. However, much of this work is done by researchers outside of Africa, which can contribute to the misrepresentation of African gendered and sexual experiences and the perpetuation of perspectives that associate Africa with poverty, disease, and other ills. Asante and Hanchey note that some transnational scholars have pushed back against health communication perspectives that focus on individual behavior and that position personal behaviors, such as sexual practices, as a “problem” to be solved. Instead, these scholars argue for a culture-centered approach to health communication that considers the cultural context when looking at health behaviors. 

African Intercultural Communication 

Research related to African perspectives in intercultural communication has expanded the discipline’s understanding of intersectional identities, racism, racialization, decolonization, and more. Scholars in this area often emphasize storytelling and autoethnographic studies in which researchers examine their personal experiences and draw connections between those experiences and the larger social context. Asante and Hanchey write that these essays frequently focus on relational experiences and reveal that “African culture” is not monolithic. Furthermore, they argue that these essays critique the way Western concepts and perspectives are imposed on the experiences of people in Africa, instead centering African embodied knowledges.

African Cultural and Media Studies 

According to Asante and Hanchey, African scholars’ contributions to cultural and media studies have often been dismissed as not applicable to Western countries. In addition, they describe how non-African scholars have undertaken cultural research in Africa without sufficient knowledge of local cultures, which has led to misrepresentations and misunderstandings. In particular, the guest editors point to the erasure and misunderstanding of African spiritual traditions, including religious experiences, paranormal phenomena, and the scientifically unexplainable. Some Western representations of Africa, such as Black Panther, while well-intentioned, may also misrepresent local cultures and values. 

African Feminist Organizational Communication 

Some African feminist organizational communication scholars have examined business practices among women in Nigeria, Liberia, and other African countries. Asante and Hanchey describe how this scholarship considers not only how these women have organized their businesses and networks, but also how they cultivate resiliency in the face of political and economic forces that might otherwise limit their organizing capacity. Asante and Hanchey argue that this research shows that there are organizational structures present in Africa that are often under-theorized or absent from Western organizational communication research. 

Looking Toward the Future 

Asante and Hanchey also describe potential trajectories for how African communication studies can shape the discipline. First, they argue that African communication studies can challenge the discipline to reconsider how the “self” is conceptualized by not clinging to the Western dichotomy of the “self” and “other.” In addition, this research can challenge Western notions of individuality and the focus on citizenship and rights in Communication research and decolonize the discipline by showing the limitations of that framework when applied indiscriminately. 

Second, Western communication studies, particularly interpersonal and family communication, have often focused on the nuclear family or romantic couples. However, African life is also centered around communal relationships or multigenerational groups. According to Asante and Hanchey, African communication studies can push the discipline to focus more on research methods that prioritize relational narratives that are more attentive to the context of communication practices.

Third, Asante and Hanchey push for a focus on the future and for active coalition building, both among scholars and between scholars and the community. They write, “As African communication scholars, and communication scholars more broadly, we must write the futures in which we wish to take part.” Asante and Hanchey call for all Communication scholars to consider how African knowledge may affect their own work, perspectives, and arguments.

The articles in the second special issue build on these themes and offer examples of applied communication scholarship from African perspectives. The articles demonstrate how alternative methodologies can be used and their impacts on the discipline. The editors write, “The five articles featured in this themed issue are brilliant applications of African communication studies that provide initial frameworks for exploring the various impacts African communication studies can have on researching and enacting communication in order to decolonize and transform the discipline.”

Further Reading 

The four essays in the first special issue reconceptualize Communication theory, method, and practice. 

The five articles in the second issue offer examples of the impact African communication research can have on the discipline and the larger society. 

This essay by Mary Grace Hébert summarizes the scholarly journal articles:
  • Godfried A. Asante & Jenna N. Hanchey (2021) African communication studies: a provocation and invitation, Review of Communication, 21:4, 271-292, DOI: 10.1080/15358593.2021.2001844
  • Jenna N. Hanchey & Godfried A. Asante (2022) African communication studies: applications and interventions, Review of Communication, 22:1, 1-6, DOI: 10.1080/15358593.2022.2027997

About the author (s)

Godfried A. Asante

San Diego State University

Assistant Professor, School of Communication

Godfried Asante

Jenna N. Hanchey

University of Nevada, Reno

(Moving to Arizona State University in Fall 2022) 
Assistant Professor, Department of Communication Studies 

Jenna Hanchey