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Women Authors on African Politics Syllabi

25 October 2013

syllabiHow many women authors are included in syllabi for courses on African Politics? The short answer is: very few.

I decided a few weeks ago to write a new syllabus for an undergraduate course on Contemporary African Politics. As I did the first time I designed a syllabus, I went online to look at those written by colleagues at other colleges and universities. It just so happens that this exploration coincided with a symposium on the gender gap at The Monkey Cage blog, which featured posts on the [lack of] citation of works by female scholars in the academic literature, with a mention about works by female scholars [not] making it onto graduate course reading lists. So, I was paying close attention to the female scholars on the African Politics syllabi I read.

I found so few women authors on the syllabi I came across that I decided to begin compiling a list of all the articles/chapters/etc. assigned in African Politics courses as represented in the syllabi I could find online. I wanted to identify the few women authors and scholars who were being included to help me with my syllabus, and also to share with others. I was also curious if there were any patterns in who included female authors on their syllabi. Were female scholars more likely to do so? Were newer faculty more likely to do so?

I have only reviewed 10 syllabi, and the professors who wrote those syllabi are not representative of the universe of African Politics instructors (see the paragraph on methods below). This is a first crack at the limited information I have thus far, and I hope to collect more information and answer the questions I posed above. With that caveat, here is what I found:

The average proportion of assigned readings on African Politics Syllabi by women authors was 11.6%. One syllabus didn’t have a single reading that was authored solely by a woman or women. One syllabus’s proportion of women writers was as low as 2% (it had only one reading), and the highest proportion of readings written by women was 35%.

The syllabus with 35% readings written by women was sufficiently remarkable (half of the syllabi were in the single digits) that I reached out to the instructor to get some insights. Aili Tripp is Professor of Political Science and Gender and Women’s Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She has been teaching African Politics for over twenty years. Over the phone earlier this week, I told her about what I had learned thus far from the syllabi collected and asked her about her approach to syllabus design and whether including women writers was a conscious decision from the outset.

Tripp said that she updates her syllabus each time she teaches the course, to include new pieces. (Given the growing number of women scholars writing on African Politics, this seems like one good way to increase the proportion of women writers in course readings). Tripp said she wasn’t that conscious about the proportions of writers by gender, but that she’s always looked to include women’s voices when teaching her class and that most important to her has been to include African perspectives. She includes on her syllabus not only scholarship by African women, but also memoirs, articles in the press, and video clips of African women thinkers (i.e., Nigerian economist, current Finance Minister of Nigeria and former World Bank Managing Director Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala) on her syllabus. Particularly if we are interested in the voices of African women, who represent a small but growing sector of published scholarship on African politics, it will be important to consider multiple ways of bringing their insights into the classroom.

Here are the “methods” or rules I followed in coming up with the numbers you see above: The non-representative sample of African Politics undergraduate course syllabi includes those designed by: Clark Gibson (UCSD), Guy Grossman (UPenn), Nahomi Ichino (Harvard), Carl Levan (American University), Staffan Lindberg (U-Florida), John McCauley (U-Maryland), Daniel Posner (UCLA), Andrew Reynolds (UNC), Alex Scacco (NYU), and Aili Tripp (UW-Madison). All syllabi were for courses taught in the last five years (2008-2013). Each syllabus entry counted as one assigned reading, regardless of length. For example, if a professor wrote “Herbst, Chapters 1 & 2”, that would count as one assigned reading; if a professor wrote for the next day of class “Herbst, Chapter 3”, that would count as a separate assigned reading. Articles without bylines – often, this included readings from The Economist – were not included in the count. When an author’s gender wasn’t obvious to me, I looked online for more information about the author. Co-authored papers by both female and male authors were assigned a fraction where the number of women authors was divided by the total number of authors. For example, the article by Victor Azarya and Naomi Chazan, “Disengagement from the State in Africa: Reflections on the Experience of Ghana and Guinea,” counted as “half” of an article in the number of readings written by women. In calculating the ratio of women authors featured on syllabi, the total number of readings was the denominator and the numerator was the sum of readings written by women. Assigned readings were not limited to academic articles or textbooks written by scholars but also included works written by non-scholars; often, these were chapters from books by journalists formerly posted in Africa or from memoirs.

For those of you looking for articles and book chapters written by women to include on your syllabus, here are readings that appeared on more than one syllabus:

  • Boone, Catherine. 1998. “The Making of a Rentier Class: Wealth Accumulation and Political Control in Senegal.”
  • Chazan, Naomi. 1999. “The Diversity of African Politics: Trends and Approaches.”
  • Manning, Carrie. 2005. “Assessing African Party Systems after the Third Wave.”
  • Schmidt, Elizabeth. 2005. “Top Down or Bottom Up? Nationalist Mobilization Reconsidered, with Special Reference to Guinea (French West Africa).”
  • Widner. Jennifer. 1994. “Political Reform in Anglophone and Francophone African Countries.”

There are newer pieces written by women scholars that I think will catch on, but one problem is a lag. Though there is an increasing number of women studying African politics (judged by the increasing number of women I see in the room at related meetings, see more below), our research takes time to get published, time to get read by others, and then others have to take the time to update their syllabi, and whenever we add something new, we invariably have to take something old off – no simple task.

Although Aili Tripp sees some improvement from an earlier survey she did of a similar nature about 8 years ago for a Politics & Gender article, it is remarkable to me after having attended the most recent meeting of the African Politics Conference Group (APCG) at the American Political Science Association annual meeting that there is such a strong disconnect between what I saw in the room (APCG is chaired by a woman, its newly elected officers are all women, and all of this year’s APCG article and dissertation awards went to women) and what I am reading on our syllabi.

I am going to cast a wider net, so please, forward me your syllabi or those of others teaching African Politics (or feel free to post links in the comments). I also plan to use the same information to look at the proportion of readings assigned that were written by African authors. In addition to my curiosity of whether there are patterns in assigning readings by African authors, I wonder if doing so also relates to the number of women authors on a syllabus. For example: is there a substitution effect whereby assigning more African authors means assigning fewer readings by women authors since so many African authors assigned in African Politics courses are men?

8 Comments leave one →
  1. Kate Baldwin permalink
    25 October 2013 12:15 pm

    Ugh. My own syllabus has 17 % female-authored content by a quick count, but — to be honest — I was (and remain) more concerned about incorporating African authors than female authors in the reading list.

    • 27 October 2013 10:37 am

      My own syllabus was pretty lopsided as well. I’d like to be conscious about choosing a slate of authors that gives voice to Africans AND women.

  2. 26 October 2013 6:00 pm

    Reblogged this on the harsh light of day….

  3. 27 October 2013 1:55 am

    What a fantastic exercise — thanks for doing this work, and for posting! I assigned your recent piece (Dionne and Dulani 2013, which I’d first read about on this blog) to my Politics of Developing Areas class (junior level), with great success. The article was very well suited to this level — it tells an interesting story while weaving in many themes from comparative politics in a thought-provoking way. It was great material for sustaining interesting conversation for an hour.

    • 27 October 2013 10:36 am

      What a compliment to say you assign my work! Thank you. I’m glad to hear that it generates discussion in your course. I’d welcome any feedback your students had. We’re looking to expand the study in the future (to examine health of presidents more generally in Africa since the independence period).

  4. Dan Posner permalink
    4 November 2013 1:13 pm

    What a great thing to do! You are absolutely right to highlight this as an important issue, and, as part of your data, I am disappointed to see what you have identified. Guilty as charged. Clearly this is a problem that needs to be addressed (and that *I* need to address). Two points, however: First, when I look over my undergraduate syllabus I find a bias not just toward men but toward older authors. I don’t think there are more than one or two articles by people under 40. When I reflect on why this is, I think it is because, for an undergraduate syllabus one wants overview pieces rather than cutting edge work, and this biases things toward more senior authors. And, of course, there are far fewer senior women in our field at present (though, thank goodness, that is changing). Second, and related, I think you need to distinguish between undergraduate and graduate syllabi. When I compared mine, I found many more articles by women on my graduate syllabus than on my undergraduate one. Still too few, but nonetheless many more. I think this reflects the fact that cutting edge methodological work of the sort that I want to expose my graduate students to tends to be done by younger scholars, and there are more women among younger scholars than in the more senior ranks. All of this said, these are small points, and they do not blunt the force of your important observation about the gender imbalance on our syllabi.


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