Koleade Odutola, Diaspora and Imagined Nationality: USA-Africa dialogue and cyberframing Nigerian nationhood.
Koleade Odutola's recent book provides an essential scholarly contribution to two areas of digital humanities that one can argue are still undertheorized --Africa's digitalscape and its relationship with the postcolonial emigres living in the West. Not too long ago, some in academia saw Africa as epitomizing the heart of digital darkness. A decade later not only does Africa have more mobile phone users than Europe but internet usage on the continent is growing rapidly. The past decade has also seen a boom in online-based communities, websites and social media pages that target Africans at home and overseas. An important contribution of these digital meeting places is that they enable real-time connections between the homeland in Africa and the new 'home' in North America or Europe. Since African cyberspace discourse is dominated by the educated middle classes, it is no surprise that Odutola's primary concern is the textual analysis of the musings of Nigerian intellectuals in these online communities, people whom Stuart Hall once described as 'the deeply cultural characters of the revolution of our times'. Odutola shows us that Nigerian intellectuals are the creators and the disseminators of new ideas.
Chapter 1 sets out the book's main argument. Starting from the intellectual content found in many online postings, Odutola argues that ideas such as nationalism and nationhood are no longer mainly debated in academic conferences and campuses but on listservs. Cyberspace is therefore the site where we can observe Nigerian intellectuals at work, as people with an agenda to influence discourse on politics and culture. He aptly describes this as 'cyberframing' (p. 17). Chapter 2 offers a literature review of some of the studies done previously on Nigerian internet communities, including Misty Bastian's anthropological research on Nigerian internet communities during the years of the late dictator General Sani Abacha and Tope Omoniyi's historicization of the way in which Africans have socialized from the precolonial era to the digital age. Important as these studies are, this chapter is the weakest section of the book. Given that the arguments developed in these works could have been integrated into other chapters as a means of buttressing Odutola's argument, I do not see the need for their stand-alone discussion. In the third chapter, Odutola discusses the methodology for his research. He gives cogent reasons for adopting qualitative analysis as the foundation for this virtual ethnographical study. The depth of the data he collected and analysed shows that the author carried out his eight-year study with the dedication of a committed researcher who clearly enjoys what he is doing.
Chapter 4 relates how various Nigerian listservs metamorphosed into web-based forums and explains important dynamics of the debates they host. While Nigerian intellectuals are often very critical of the political system in Nigeria and their own diasporic community, they do not often tolerate foreign media or nonNigerians making the same criticisms. Ironically, this notion also shapes relations between resident and diasporic Nigerians: when it comes to the question of who is entitled to comment on Nigerian politics, Nigeria-based academics sometimes question the right of their foreign-based compatriots due to the reason that they no longer reside in the country. Chapter 5 analyses the ephemerality of the data garnered during the course of Odutola's research. While listservs can serve as a counterbalance to mainstream news media, because of the frankness with which members approach their discussions, very little material posted in online communities is archived. Thus, when a listserv is terminated, all texts and images posted on the page are likely to die with it. Odutola's emphasis on the candidness that one often finds in cyber-communities is germane. These spaces of discussion offer an openness and freedom that one may not see in traditional news media. In some ways, they can be seen as an extension of knowledge that used to be shared on university campuses and at academic conferences, and which is now available online for a wider group of digitally wired Nigerians. Moreover, ideas and information are quickly cross-referenced in real time to determine their authenticity and reliability in a way that would have been impossible in the pre-internet era.
The book ends with a detailed conclusion by arguing that when identity is no longer based on a fixed location, the concepts of 'home' and nationhood are in a state of flux. While many US-based academics want to lay claim to Nigeria, the ideas they express in online forums often reflect their acculturation to America. Online debates about Nigeria are therefore coloured by the experiences of emerging online communities and the 'new' Atlantic world-postcolonial Africa and a post-Cold War America. Here, one can see the concept of cyberframing at play.
University of Bayreuth
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|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||May 1, 2014|
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