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'Progress' in Zimbabwe Conference
Amanda Atwood,
November 08, 2010

The 'Progress' in Zimbabwe Conference, organised by the Mass Public Opinion Institute, Bulawayo Agenda and the University of Johannesburg was held in Bulawayo from November 3-6, 2010.

Read Patrick Bond's summary report back on the conference here


Conference sessions included:

  • The Philosophy of Progress and Zimbabwe - Read and listen
  • Narratives of Progress: Zimbabwean Historiography - Read and listen
  • Landed Economies: Farming & Farmers Then & Now - Read and listen
  • Resources: Cursed or Blessed Political Economies? Read and listen
  • 'Intellectuals' and Progress in Zimbabwe - Read and listen
  • National Heroes, National Shrines and Joshua Nkomo's Legacy: Policy Implications?
  • Economy and Society Restructured: New Formations of Labour and Capital - Read and listen
  • Labour's Past, Present and Future - Read and listen
  • The Parties & Their Politics - Read and listen
  • Civil Society: Strategies for Emancipation - Read and listen
  • Identities: Gender, Ethnicity, Race, Displacement - Read more
  • Zimbabwe Compared: 'Progress' in the Rest of Africa - Read and listen
  • Roundtable: Perspectives on Progressive Policies
Background - Concept Paper

Zimbabwe's severe crisis - and a possible way out of it with a transitional government - and the new era for which it prepares the ground - demands a coherent scholarly response. 'Progress' can be employed as an organising theme across many disciplinary approaches to Zimbabwe's societal devastation and reconstruction. At wider levels too, the concept of progress is fitting. It underpins 'modern', 'liberal' and 'radical' perspectives of development pervading the social sciences and humanities. Yet perceptions of 'progress' are subject increasingly to intensive critical inquiry.

John Gray's Black Mass: Apocalyptic Religion and the Death of Utopia indicates the 'pessimistic' side of the progress coin. John Hoffman (a retired professor with a long involvement in left-wing Zimbabwean politics), whose John Gray and the Problem of Utopia is a sophisticated rebuttal to this pessimism, will launch the conference with a survey of the ideas underpinning 'progress' and their relevance to Africa and Zimbabwe.

For many analysts, the end of progress is signified in the political projects of Robert Mugabe and ZANU-PF - not to mention the government of national unity. This conference will interrogate Zimbabwean history and its current conjuncture through the lens of the idea of 'progress' in the social science disciplines closely associated with politics and policy as well as the investigation of the structures underpinning these.

Participants will be expected to engage directly in debates about how the idea of 'progress' has informed their disciplines - from political science and history to labour and agrarian studies - and then relate these arguments to the Zimbabwean case in general and their research in particular, within the context of the Zimbabwean academic discourse in their discipline. Strategy options for civil society activists and policy alternatives for state and business will emerge from the conference, as it has a special mandate to merge academia and activism with progressive praxis in mind.

We will organise the sessions in clusters involving scholars and activists old and new, one or two of whom in each cluster will be lead authors of articles in a special issue of the Journal of Contemporary African Studies edited by Norma Kriger, David Moore, and Brian Raftopoulos, devoted to this topic. Members of a new generation in the respective disciplines will be involved in the disciplinary based sessions and the formation of the main authors' contributions. They will also become involved in the formation of an association of young social scientists. As well, activists in civil society and political parties will be encouraged to attend and participate in the debates.

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