Social, Field And Regional Conditions Of Knowledge: News On Darfur In African Media

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Social, Field And Regional Conditions Of Knowledge: News On Darfur In African Media

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This project is embedded within Max Weber’s 1910 call to study the press while taking his message to a region of the world that is often studied within sociology for what it lacks rather than as one engaging in activities that could be considered on their merit. With few exceptions, sociology has approached sub-Saharan Africa as a space that is paradigmatic of incompleteness and beset by continual setbacks. By and large, sociological scholarship on knowledge production is still constrained by coloniality, which leads to a privileging of western organizations’ construction of knowledge while treating knowledge production by organizations in Africa as ephemeral. The result of this imbalance is that we know more about how the New York Times and Washington Post covered Rwanda and Darfur than how Kenya’s The Daily Nation represented either atrocity. Because sociology has been mostly silent on how countries neighboring Darfur covered the atrocity, there is an implicit message that African fields are not part of the ‘global’ in the same way fields in the global north are. To analyze how African media fields construct knowledge about mass atrocity, this dissertation project is based on a content analysis of every single news article on Darfur from Kenya, South Africa and Rwanda published between 1st of January 2003 and 31st December 2008. Results from this content analysis are used to provide overarching themes of how Darfur was represented in these three countries. Although these data suggest convergence in how Darfur was framed by media fields analyzed here - and those from the global north examined by Joachim Savelsberg- this project’s focus on by-lines to differentiate articles by African journalists from those lifted from wire agencies provides a level of nuance hither missing. While the content analysis offers macro-level evidence for how Darfur was covered, it is sufficient in explaining why and how African media fields employ these frames. To provide this explanation, journalist interviews were conducted in Kenya, South Africa, and Nigeria from the summer of 2012 to the summer of 2015. These interviews were conducted in Nairobi, Mombasa, Johannesburg, and Lagos. All except three were conducted face to face and the three over the phone. Overall, findings suggest that, although African journalists and scholars are often critical of the use of the ethnic conflict frame as reliant on colonial tropes, arguing that it de-contextualizes and de-politicizes atrocities, they used this frame relatively frequently. Further, although most of the sources quoted were Sudanese state actors, non-Sudanese African sources were marginalized by both wire agencies and African journalists. Sources from the United States and the United Kingdom played a more prominent role in influencing narratives about Darfur in the countries studied here. African media fields are primary narrative constructors of the atrocities in Darfur for African audiences. Being African conspires to produce a condition of invisibility and erasure of African voices in the global narrative construction of knowledge about mass atrocity.


University of Minnesota Ph.D. dissertation. June 2018. Major: Sociology. Advisors: Joachim Savelsberg, David Pellow. 1 computer file (PDF); xiii, 322 pages.

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Wahutu, Nicholas. (2018). Social, Field And Regional Conditions Of Knowledge: News On Darfur In African Media. Retrieved from the University Digital Conservancy,

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