The project includes one of the most popular trends in social science right now, “intersectionality”. While intersectionality is usually used to explain how political, cultural, gender, and other identities intersect to offer diverse perspectives, Wels’ team wants to add species to the framework. He specifically uses the examples of the colonial plundering of Africa’s environment and the global outcry surrounding the hunting of Cecil the Lion. The so-called ‘animal turn’ in the social sciences is a valid area of research, but positioning it in African Studies in this way is a “poor choice” because it could create a “false equivalence between human experiences and animal experiences”, says Nicole Beardsworth, a doctoral candidate at the University of Warwick. “This is especially the case in Africa where animal’s experiences are often treated with more care than people’s”, said Beardworth. “Cecil the Lion is a case in point.” The project’s announcement inadvertently plays into a derogatory representation of Africans that has been used for centuries, most recently in a photographic exhibition in China that used side-by-side images to compare Africans to apes and monkeys. While Wels isn’t deliberately trying to compare Africans to animals, he nonetheless plays into a narrative that has been used to oppress and subjugate Africans by painting them as inferior. There is an image Wels uses in the blog post that is particularly perplexing, and reminds us of this narrative: The image of a shackled African juxtaposed with a chained animal.
Lynsey Chutel in The problem with a top European university adding animals to its African studies program (Quartz)