For a researcher in African studies working in Austria, there is no substitute for international experience, which is why I already spent a year at the University of London as a student. My Schrödinger Fellowship has taken me not only to France to the Université Bordeaux III, but also back to Tanzania for two periods of several weeks, a country where I had earlier spent a total of one year for research purposes. My project on Tanzanian youth culture is tied to the multi-annual interdisciplinary research project Dimensions de l’objet Swahili: textes et terrain under the leadership of the literary scholar Alain Ricard and the geographer François Bart. The two experts have built up a research unit on Tanzania in Bordeaux, which is rather unusual for France, where affinities usually lie with West Africa due to the country’s colonial past.
Place of Research
Unlike Vienna, there are many colleagues with African backgrounds at the University of Bordeaux – both researchers and students – which I find very enriching. Somewhat less inspiring is the pronounced sense of hierarchy and the many formalities that seem even more convoluted in France than in Vienna. This said, most of my colleagues are very friendly and both of the project heads invite me now and then for dinner at their homes and introduce me to new people. I also have fond memories of a workshop organised by our project team in Nairobi (Kenya) following some field research in Tanzania. My time in Tanzania was spent in several smaller towns where, assisted by my two long-standing research assistants Nginjai Paul Moreto and Azizi Matiga, I interviewed numerous young artists and translated the lyrics of their songs from Swahili into English.
Initially dedicated mainly to the Tanzanian hip-hop type of music called Bongo Flava, my project shifted focus during my stays in Tanzania. I quickly realised that the medium of film has rapidly gained ground in the country over the last three years – thanks to the production of video feature films in Swahili on the one hand, and through the translation of American, Indian and Chinese film productions into Swahili on the other. My studies of this part of popular culture have sharpened my focus on the genre of music where numerous parallel developments are in train. There are many opportunities here for me to present my tenets in the context of workshops organised by the project team and to develop them further together with my colleagues who deal with Tanzanian culture from the perspective of other disciplines.
In order to polish up my French more quickly and to get in contact with locals outside my work I share an apartment with two French women. It is good fun and our apartment is right in the centre of Bordeaux – meaning ample opportunities to make the most of this city. Just around the corner lies the Marché des Capucins offering fresh vegetables and fish every morning. Apart from the Utopia arthouse cinema housed in a former church, the bandes dessinées (cartoon) sections of the local bookshops are among some of my favourite haunts. On the weekends, outings to the surrounding wine regions or along the Atlantic Ocean coast are a welcome complement to city life. Occasionally, a few fresh oysters enjoyed on the banks of the River Garonne will also bring a touch of the ocean to the city. At any rate, the wonderful food here is one of the highlights of my stay.
After my time in Bordeaux, an Erasmus Mundus Global Studies grant for teachers will take me to Dalhousie University in Canada for two months of teaching. I am looking forward to that a lot, for even if it’s nice to have so much time for your own research, I miss the contact with students. I have kept in touch with my colleagues at the Department of African Studies in Vienna, and after my return to Vienna I have another six months as a “pillar-2” assistant. It remains to be seen whether I will be able to continue sharing my international experience with the African Studies branch. Given the current university set-up, this is, unfortunately, more than uncertain.