FCT

R&D Institutions

Resultado da avaliação 2007 na área de Estudos Africanos

Unidade de I&D

Centro de Estudos Africanos da Universidade do Porto [AFR-Norte-Porto-495] visitada em 18/12/2007

Classificação: Very Good

Comentários do painel de avaliação
Sobre a unidade
The panel site visit has been organized as was planned by FCT. We were welcomed by the new Unit coordinator Elvira Cunha Azevedo Mea (Chair) and the other members of the board as well as almost all PI’s. A well prepared meeting room with a display of the main publications and a CD-rom on the ongoing activities was also prepared for the site visit. The thorough preparation of the site visit by the board and the unit’s members made it considerably easier for the evaluation panel to have an overview of ongoing activities.
The chair made a few introductory remarks and summarized the activities of the centre as stated in the unit report. Because one member of the evaluation panel had to leave urgently and because all RG would like to go on in future we immediately started with the discussion of the different RG who were all well represented by the PI’s and younger staff.
The first group on African Forced labour, directed by José Maciel Honrado Morais Santos is a RG on history and appropriately specializing on what is, in our opinion one of the ‘natural’ strong points of Africa Institutes in Portugal, the research in colonial and post colonial history of (ex-) Portuguese territories. Our evaluation of this group is excellent. I quote from the RG evaluation ‘The project is extremely relevant, both academically and from a more general audience standpoint. Two recent publications (two collective books on Forced Labour) testify to the international networks (mainly but not exclusively Portuguese Diaspora) of the team. These two books (which I read) are of high quality and present new insights into aspects of forced labour in various colonial contexts and from different perspectives. These books come as an addition to a good record of publications in journals. Such high quality academic production should be encouraged. We only recommend them
1) That they try to let that quality work better known to the outside world (probably FCT could help them to invest in a larger English audience-peer reviewed journals, because they have the quality)
2) To invest also in contemporary history of the countries under study in order to link up also with recent evolutions
3) Continue to link up with the other research units in that area at CESA and CEA (probably by opening up the review Africana Studies who seems to be the steadiest publication in the area in Portugal- see recommendations in overall evaluation document)
We also appreciated the effort on training masters in Cabo Verde.
The second RG on Self Sustained Development led by António Jacinto Rodrigues had a much more critical developmental approach with interesting features in that it linked up with PI’s and researchers outside the faculty and tried to apply its approach in actual developmental practice. We were however unable to assess the real impact in the field.
The third RG on Water management and natural Environment is also performing very well. However, the list of research objectives remains somewhat exhaustive and will require limiting at the case study level to one or only several principle enquiries with related methodologies
Before the site visit we had the impression that there was quite some overlap with the second RG and therefore we could not understand why these RG did not merge. After the site visit, we understood that their approaches and background philosophies were quite divergent and so there might be a rationale for not merging the two. Although I subscribe fully to the positive evaluations of our panel members, we still believe that they have insufficient scale on their own to carry on applied research in domains that need rather substantial funding.
To address this dimension of scale several alternatives should be considered:
1) If there is no other water management and development unit at Porto University then of course this RG’s should be stimulated to continue in that setting except if in the applied science department there is a hydrology department that could invest more in an African context.
2) Develop the particular research line on the geopolitics of water management and International Relations. That may provide a particular and specific opportunity to present the research internationally and pitch it as constituting work of international excellence, with a Portuguese view and Lusophone identity, since few are working on this particular line.
3) There is also a possibility of collaboration here with researchers at the Centro de Estudos Africanos in Lisbon, where, for example, a joint seminar series on natural resource management, or nature and society in Africa more broadly, could be considered and stimulated.
Of course if these groups reconsider the organization and focus of their groups they should not be penalized in terms of funding by merging or looking at synergies with others, at the contrary.
The fourth RG on identities and conflicts in Africa has of course an immediate appeal to the ongoing concerns of African development. In as far as the project is that of a virtual museum it testifies to an awareness of opportunity and to creativity. Networking with other museums is already a reality and will help making this project real and useful. However in as far as the research is about the ‘conflicts and identities’ component , then our suggestion on contemporary history with RG 1 seems appropriate and efforts in linking up with the RG on ‘Wars, violent conflicts and forced migrations in África’ at CEA/Lisbon is appropriate.
Finally concerning the 5th RG on ‘Social and Economic Development and Cooperation’ we fully subscribe to the idea and recommendation of narrowing down the focus of this group. In particular, and this is not a contradiction, those research questions which involve the particular expertise of a Portuguese centre of excellence, which utilize the advantages of language and proximity – for example the research line which intends to analyze the comparative contribution of Portuguese development assistance, decentralized cooperation, and the role of municipalities – play to the strengths of Porto as a research centre. It is not necessary, in the opinion of this reviewer, to pursue international excellence as an anodyne, anglicizing project, which commits everyone, everywhere, to a standardizing research agenda and similar conceptual map. To pursue the general objectives of this group, which would probably end up in broad theoretical debates on English and North American conceptual terrains in order to secure high impact English language publications, would risk diluting the value added of the Porto centre, whereas pursuing the specific themes identified promises a more creative and ultimately, potentially, more expert agenda’.
Another point of concern is the downward trend of the number of MA students. It would be good if the unit tries to give an answer to the different questions. Although the number of MA’s is going down drastically, we read in the ‘future vision’ that it should be increased and that a PhD program in African studies is planned for 2008.We recommend that due thought is given to the downward trend of MA’s and in the need of a separate full scale PhD program in African Studies at the level of each of the African Units.
First an assessment is needed into the reasons of decline of the attractiveness of the MA program in African Studies. Is it because development studies is going down in general? Has it to do with less attractiveness of the African continent, or too little job opportunities in that area? Is there too little specialization in the MA or do students have the option for similar programs in other European centres? Can you have different MA’s in African Studies in Portugal? Could there not be a division of labour between the three bigger Africa Studies Units with each centre having one in which it is best equipped? Of course the trend of decentralizing towards African universities (especially in lusophone Africa) is a worthwhile venture that should be stimulated. Concerning the PhD program, we can only reiterate a fortiori the questions we have concerning the MA program. Although PhD students need to work and be affiliated to one African study Unit after a first introductory year, it is highly recommended that a first year on methodology and basic courses should be a joint program.
In sum, the site visit was very well prepared by the CEAUP team. We noticed some very outstanding features in the functioning of the Porto unit. First the transition of responsibilities in the board and the direction of the unit seem to be very well accepted and leading to a collective responsibility for the overall performance of the unit. Second, this first characteristic led probably to a well-motivated group. We therefore grade the unit without any doubt as 'very good'. As mentioned earlier, some aspects can even be graded as ‘excellent’. There is still room for improvement, especially along the lines suggested in the summary above of the recommendations for the different RG’s and the questions concerning the educational programs (MA and PhD –see above). At the general level the room for improvement concerns
1) Publication and participation in the international scientific arena (peer reviewed articles for a wider European and North American audience)
2) Continue the development of the website
3) The reinforcement of the network of the Portuguese African and Development studies. In order to give a prominent place to Portugal within the networks of African studies, what is needed is cooperation (not competition) and looking for complementarities in the domain of education and research.
4) Stimulate young researchers to access responsibility within the RG's and the unit in order to prepare for the future
Sobre os grupos de investigação
AFRICAN FORCED LABOUR [RG-AFR-Norte-Porto-495-1604]
The project could be better described than by a list of archives to be consulted. It seems to be more of a general theme around which the researchers of the group work, than a corporate research project. Hence, the achievements remain either individual (publications) or revolve around the organization of seminars that allow each participant to pick and exchange information relevant to his/her own next publication. I do not see what the collective output of the collaboration will be.
The funding is small and mainly directed towards archival work etc.
Not all the researchers seem to be equally involved with various life experience and background, and unequal interest in the theme of the research group, as it appears when checking the publication list on individual CV’s. The production of the main investigator is more than satisfactory, and connections abroad exist. The integration of a researcher of the same generation but with a different background could start a real team work, but this does not appear yet in publications. A better definition of the project could help organize team work better and open a dialogue around research that would benefit from exchanges between members of the group.
On the whole, international publications of high rank are few, and mainly produced by the main researcher. The theme is, however, important and well in tune with current interests in the area. The knowledge of several languages useful to the study of documents relating to the area is certainly an asset.
What are the scientific interactions between the members of the group?
The project is extremely relevant, both academically and from a more general audience standpoint. Two recent publications (two collective books on Forced Labour) testify to the international networks (mainly but not exclusively Portuguese Diaspora) of the team. These two books (which I read) are of high quality and present new insights into aspects of forced labour in various colonial contexts and from different perspectives. These books come as an addition to a good record of publications in journals. Such high quality academic production should be encouraged, and possibly better spread. The PI is aware of this, and has taken steps towards the Brazilian market for the distribution of books published by the unit. The recent integration of CEAUP into the AEGIS group will also promote new opportunities for international publications. The good collaboration existing with the CEA opens opportunities in different areas: publications (each of these two units publishes a journal), libraries, and other exchanges. The PI has certainly developed a culture of creativity, both within the RG and within the unit, and obviously encourages initiatives.
The objectives for future research in the group are extremely relevant and some areas of research are very innovative, the Brazil-Angola-East Africa connections that are little know yet.
Seminars are being organized and there is a genuine awareness of the opportunities CEAUP could offer to researchers working on Africa but being dispersed in the University. Much care seems to be taken to link with them, as well as with Lisbon.
Support to African researchers is an important activity of the group, with 24 masters in Cabo Verde, whom the group tries to encourage on the basis of their merits, trying to avoid the usual traps of clientelism.
The on-site visit conveys an excellent impression on all respects. The PI J.M. Morais Santos, appears as dynamic, and strongly motivated to collaborate with the unit coordinator and all colleagues to improve the productivity of the group (and of the unit) further, as well as the connections with Portuguese and African colleagues and students. The meeting is well organized and synergies at work in the unit.
IDENTITIES AND CONFLICTS IN SUB-SAHARAN AFRICA [RG-AFR-Norte-Porto-495-3063]
The themes under investigation are extremely relevant. –The originality of the investigations rest more with the areas under scrutiny than in any specific approach, but this is fine, as this area comprises mainly former Portuguese colonies that are less studies out of Portugal.
As far as productivity is concerned, internationalization results more of the organization of conferences than of publication in high standard international journals.
The PI could not be present during the in-site visit (last week before Xmas – He also works in Bern). In this case, a well-described project with a clear methodology and theoretical articulation would have been especially helpful. As it stands, a strategy grounded in a coordinate vision is somewhat missing, but going through an enumeration of objectives, and dropping those that appear as not connected with either the special requirements, or with a well articulated research, one can recommend considering funding this project, especially as the requirements relate to very relevant parts of the project, namely, the integration of various data’s collected and yet to collect into a virtual museum through digitalization.
In fact, the current special requirements are about staff and equipment, and the red threat in the enumeration of objectives are steps leading towards the creation of a virtual museum combining archives, archival work, photographs of cult objects taken in situ (and this is very important), and an analysis of ethnographic collections present at the University of Porto (we do not know, however, how important these collections are). Such an achievement would enhance the international knowledge of specific areas of Africa in domains that are currently on the academic agenda. It would also allow for the use of data’s collected within the scope of a previous research, which would be further valorised. In this context, an interdisciplinary approach is at the order of the day and the existing contacts of the group with relevant institutions show this is happening.
This seems an Endeavour worth funding, and more auxiliary staff and specific equipment will be necessary in this context.
The group works within a stimulating environment, and this project would improve interdisciplinary collaboration and improve the national and international visibility of the centre and of the university of Porto. The project of a virtual museum testifies to an awareness of opportunity and to creativity. Networking with other museums is already a reality and will help making this project real and useful. There is an obvious interest for visual documents and their documentation, and connections with cinematheques.
SOCIAL AND ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT AND COOPERATION [RG-AFR-Norte-Porto-495-3065]
Productivity is unequal among researchers in terms of the recent past, although I do not doubt the capability of members: this merely makes an assessment of productivity very difficult as one would require to know whether efforts had previously been focused elsewhere. That being said, if staff are unable to publish this may be due to over commitment to other areas such as teaching, which would need to be addressed under the research management of this project. I would also be concerned that the objectives set out are too broad ranging and overly ambitious. They are also not completely cognate, which may mean future tensions over resources could be expected in the group. The idea of quantification using municipal counties is novel, but I would wish to see more detail of methodology to check that it is actually feasible. This work could potentially be of international significance, particularly as it contributes to outlining the uniqueness of the Portuguese 'view', if the management structure is facilitative.
This is a new research group, and again it has a very broad research area and agenda, which serves as a home for more specific and context–driven projects. The general themes will only be adequately addressed using the empirical and researchable project lines, since to pursue any of these singularly would pose exhaustive methodological and resource constraints. Indeed, some of the objectives listed are too broad to be researchable. However, the researchers were fully aware of this creative tension between the research group as a whole, and its broad objectives, and the more specific research projects and lines of enquiry described at the site visit. Many of these latter are substantively promising and have the potential to contribute to work of international excellence.
In particular, and this is not a contradiction, those research questions which involve the particular expertise of a Portuguese centre of excellence, which utilize the advantages of language and proximity – for example the research line which intends to analyze the comparative contribution of Portuguese development assistance, decentralized cooperation, and the role of municipalities – play to the strengths of Porto as a research centre. It is not necessary, in the opinion of this reviewer, to pursue international excellence as an anodyne, anglicizing project, which commits everyone, everywhere, to a standardizing research agenda and similar conceptual map. To pursue the general objectives of this group, which would probably end up in broad theoretical debates on English and North American conceptual terrains in order to secure high impact English language publications, would risk diluting the value added of the Porto centre, whereas pursuing the specific themes identified promises a more creative and ultimately, potentially, more expert agenda. In the meantime, we can all hope that the ossified, and highly managed, ‘international’ space becomes less homogenous.
The quantification of rents and extraversion, listed as a general theme, might be too ambitious within the resources and time available, although with expensive and exhaustive computer-based assistance, I could be proved wrong for specific geographies, probably small island economies rather than large African economies. Similarly, the quantification using municipal counties is an original and novel idea whose feasibility is again difficult.
The work of the group could potentially be of international significance, particularly as it contributes to outlining the uniqueness of the Portuguese ‘view’, if the management structure remains supportive (see below).
Under the research leadership of Carlos Pimenta, who is extensively and competently published in a range of high quality journals and has also published a book, this group again promises to include a number of exceptional junior researchers in an intergenerational exchange of ideas and practice. The productivity of the group as a whole is here differentially estimated, given that some of the more junior members are at the beginning of their research careers and thus lesser published. However, the research governance structure must remain transparent and equitable to ensure that tensions don’t arise, particularly if one group is successful in securing project funding, while another is not, between researchers who are not necessarily pursuing cognate themes. Again, there are possibilities of mutually advantageous collaborative work with the Centro de Estudos Africanos in Lisbon.
TOWARDS SELF-SUSTAINED SOCIETIES - APPLIED RESEARCH PROJECTS [RG-AFR-Norte-Porto-495-1606]
The performance of the group in the context of this starting project cannot be evaluated, except through the definition of the objectives of the project. These remain rather vague, although the general theme is trendy and can attract funding. The only clear delimitation concerns the two countries under investigation, though they are not made explicit, let alone described within the frame of a clearly articulated problematic.
One can then look at the past of the team members. The main investigator has published in several areas of interest but not at an international level, and without a main field of research being discernible.
Another member has published abroad, but this does not mean internationally. A few contributions testify to wider networking.
The same remark applies to the third researcher who considers publications abroad as international publication. Her adjunction to the team, as a specialist in water and infrastructures, is an asset for the development of interdisciplinary and applied research.
The theme of the project is certainly relevant and extremely well in tune with current preoccupations, both political and academic. From an academic standpoint, it should have been better described. As an applied project, its goals appear as, on the one hand, sound, and at the other, lacking in a practical vision articulated on empirical knowledge grounded on a synergy between observation and socio-cultural studies in development. The PI is highly motivated and certainly able to induce good collaboration with young researchers and students.
There is an obvious potential in this project in terms of interdisciplinary and training.
Therefore, I would recommend funding this project, as it could provide a base where students could do field research and produce, precisely, the knowledge that is currently lacking, and train in interdisciplinary study in an area that requires it. Another reason for supporting this project is that the students will certainly benefit from the support of many members of the unit where they will find a stimulating academic environment.
If the project were to be funded, however, I would recommend restricting the area of study, and more precisely, dropping Senegal River Valley, amply studied already, and where the main asset is a personal connection. Funds and efforts should not be too dispersed.
Here are, on top of the potential for interdisciplinary research, the strong assets of the project. Being a project in applied research, the theoretical and methodological weaknesses in its presentation should be tempered by the opportunities it can offer in the field.
The productivity can only be assessed through the description of the project and this is not optimal.
WATER RESOURCES AND NATURAL ENVIRONMENT IN AFRICA [RG-AFR-Norte-Porto-495-1608]
The project framework at best allows for a number of discrete projects to be pursued by junior researchers in one of three African river basins, alongside African institutions and researchers. The research is thus inclusive and expanding. My only remaining concern, which was mostly allayed at the site visit, is that the list of research objectives remains somewhat exhaustive and will require limiting at the case study level to one or only several principle enquiries with related methodologies. The comparative aspect of the research may also pose challenges later, as the river basins, apart from being African, may not necessarily have research aspects in common. Those concerns being raised, however, it would be fair to say that the researchers themselves were fully cognisant of these research challenges. The particular research line on the geopolitics of water management and International Relations may provide a particular and specific opportunity to present the research internationally and pitch it as constituting work of international excellence, with a Portuguese view and Lusophone identity, since few are working on this particular line. There is also a possibility of collaboration here with researchers at the Centro de Estudos Africanos in Lisbon, where, for example, a joint seminar series on natural resource management, or nature and society in Africa more broadly, could be considered.
Ana Elisa Cascão, who answered some of the aspects raised at the site visit, had a particularly expert grasp of the multi-disciplinary and methodological challenges facing a team of researchers intent on crossing the boundaries between natural and social science, and a promising emerging publications record to match. Carlos Garrido appeared to provide competent and inclusive leadership of a young and promising team, while possessing high quality relevant publications, while the group as a whole were internationally networked both in Africa and Europe with commensurate publications in Portuguese and English journals.
FCT support for a number of the specific projects identified within the Research Groups would be of huge benefit to underpin the virtuous circle of expansion and inclusion of junior researchers identified in both this and the Social and Economic Development Group.