Looking back in retrospect in the first quarter of the year 2019, my highpoint will be my participation in the ten-day international masterclass co-organised by IFRA-Nigeria and ENS-Paris. The classes held across two University campuses in Nigeria’s cities of Lagos and Ibadan – The Universit(ies) of Lagos and Ibadan respectively. The theme of the Masterclass was “Researching Public Spaces in African Cities”. The Masterclass was organized to build the capacity of students (10 Nigerians and 5 French) working on different areas of urban study and public space.
The classes were both theoretical and practical. The theoretical sessions at the University of Lagos featured various lectures from an array of respected intellectuals, artist and practitioners from varied disciplines and professions. They included Saheed Aderinto, a Professor of History and the convener of the Lagos Studies Association; Dr. Laitan Lawanson, an expert in urban studies; Dr Pauline Guinard a geographer; Professor Filip De Boeck, a respected Professor of Anthropology with over three decades of ethnographic experience in the city of Kinshasha and Dr Emilie Guitard, anthropologist and deputy director of IFRA-Nigeria. We also engaged with Dieudo Hamadi, a multiple award-winning filmmaker; Polly Alakija, a plastic artist and chairwoman of the Lagos Arts Council; Qudus Onikeku, a Choreographer and Founder of the QDanceCenter; Onye Ozuzu, a Choreographer and Dean of the School of Arts, University of Florida; and Papa Omotayo, an Architect and Founder of Whitespace Creative Agency. Also, Ismaël Maazaz (Edinburgh University, UK) and Chrystel Oloukoï (Harvard University, USA) shared insights from their various ethnographic filed works.
After such intensive theoretical discussions on various approaches, methods, and tools for researching public space in African cities, we proceeded on more intensive and practical field experience in Ibadan. Divided into four different groups with a supervisor each, we conducted ethnographic fieldwork in various research sites in Ibadan. This afforded the opportunity to not only to witness the practicality of the theoretical debates but also to test firsthand the feasibility and rigor of some ethnographic methods we had learned. For instance, being a student immersed in the tradition of quantitative study of political science, it was interesting to conduct ethnographic fieldwork for the first time, something I had hitherto considered the exclusive preserve of sociologist and anthropologist. Equally interesting was the opportunity to see firsthand how mapping can be used to study not just a physical location but also sound, smell, etc. Also, I have never thought before now, there could be some nexus between art, films and academic researches. Beyond just using pictures and videos as research justifications and pieces of evidence, I learned that there is so much insight we as researchers can draw from the works of photographers, filmmakers, documentarist, etc. The works of Professor De Boeck were living proofs of this important possibilities, haven worked at various times with photographers and Artists in what he calls “photo-writing”.
I should equally add that it was fun too. Apart from mixing the intensive lectures and fieldworks with the opportunity to attend the Afro Space-Time danceGATHERING Lagos Festival and the Screening of two of @Dieudo Hamadis documentary, we also visited historic sites in both Lagos and Ibadan. Not to mention the various night-outs that became an everyday occurrence, especially with the French delegates who were bent on enjoying the nightlife in Lagos and Ibadan. I must say it was both educating and fun-filled. I have learned so much that I can’t wait to start applying them to my researches.
A big thank you to IFRA-Nigeria and ENS-Paris. To say that IFRA-Nigeria and ENS-Paris did a wonderful job with the Masterclass is an understatement. They are filling an important human capacity gap in the academia with their annual Masterclass, something for which the academia and the higher education sector should acknowledge and encourage.