Notes on: Niati, NB & Shah PP (2022) Transhiphop pedagogy and epistemic disobedience in Senegal. International Journal of Research and Method in Education. 45 (3): 271 – 283 DOI: 10.1080/1743727X.2022.2052722

Dave Harris

This is a study of 'transnégritude' among Senegal youth which shows apparently a trans-colonial narrative 'bound through an imagined community' negotiated through a hip-hop pedagogy'. Mignolo's epistemic disobedience [see separate file] informs the study. Hip-hop is a global culture Transnégritude apparently bridges black identity, agency and deconstructionism and allows fluid navigation. Informal education helps work towards social transformation as a response to imperialism. The idea is to challenge formal schooling and interrogate youth identity.

There is a civic movement organisation in Senegal [or at least in Dakar] formed by 'rappers journalists and students called 'Y'en a Marre (fed Up)''  [YEM]. They do critical consciousness, culturally relevant pedagogy and cultural modelling and develop projects and slogans to challenge hegemonic practices and develop a new identity that is 'authentically Senegalese'. They are the ones who utilise a hip-hop pedagogy to keep it real. The researchers use transnégritude to consider this understanding.

Hip-hop can create epistemic assessments of lived realities and promote new ownership of geo and body politics of knowledge production as a challenge to traditional schooling, helping people to transform education outside the traditional course YEM has lent a sense of urgency.

The imagined community occupied by young people share an aesthetic, language and identity and sound and a philosophy guided by black nationalism and street consciousness. They see hip-hop as a kind of music that promotes social justice and provides an outlet for marginal youth to share their stories. Blackness and negritude involve the recognition that one is black and one has a history and culture that can challenge Euro traditions and develop authentically African epistemologies. The negritude movement developed in France in the 20s and 30s, involving émigrés from Senegal, Martinique and Guiana. They were responding to colonial tendencies to offer the power of erasure and consequent psychic disorientation, the arrested development of the African world, and racial othering. Negritude was then a literary and philosophical movement to reimagine African alternatives [much of this in the form of quotes]

The original French arguments have been generalised to include notions of visibility ownership and shared struggle and links to more general notions of trans-colonial reality, an apparent shared experience of colonial oppression in all European colonies, although there are variations, producing 'a dialectical understanding of transformation, communally and individually' (272). Transnegritude apparently applies to the diaspora as well, discussing how it might be possible to be both black and French. Here, the notion of the imagined community seems to be important – 'a mental and emotional affinity among blacks that transcends nationality, language and economic circumstances'.

YEM promotes this transcultural pan- Africanism focusing on transformation and ownership, developing fitness and training, education through urban culture involving young people, urging members to heal themselves, advocating a form of schooling as personal transformation including 'verbal artistry and commentary on life circumstances' (273). Hip-hop 'speaks to' similar de-linking and expressive actions, including a black nationalist identity, a healing power, and ability to give voice to the disregarded and ignored sources of pain that black people negotiate. It also personifies an imagined community, where young urban blacks use mass culture 'to facilitate communal discourse' [subverted by commerce as an audience].

It can be developed as a pedagogy by developing its creative elements: '"rapping, DJing, MCing, breaking, graffiti and the philosophies of consciousness and social justice, and... Connecting with students on their cultural turf...their realities and experiences"'  [Old hat, done by trendy vicars since the 1950s in youth clubs]. Hip-hop pedagogy is culturally responsive, based on prairie and others critical pedagogy and uses cultural modelling methods. Together this puts culture a social context learning styles and experiences of students in the centre of the curriculum. Schools are learning have to be reconsidered to include any learning community and anyone who is engaged purposefully in learning. Thus hip-hop engages in transformative education and liberatory knowledge production [no one wants to do vocational education]. The usual classroom is structured and mechanised and must become creative. Young people must be considered as an asset. If we do this in Africa we are decolonising. Dominant narratives must be resisted. Epistemic disobedience has to be encouraged. YEM has these gripping new slogans like calling for a new type of Senegalese person.

Young people just are 'pushing for self-determination and transformation' and figuring out a new role on the global stage. They are taking full advantage of new social media and new democratic forms and are choosing to speak up and becoming more vocal; they are determined to claim their rights they are demonstrating epistemic disobedience as in Mignolo. This is seen by talking to members of YEM, who can be understood in terms of Mignolo,, and who were specifically engaging in transformational education which 'echoes what young people are doing all over the African continent, resisting hegemonic practices and promoting local cultural expressions while making sense of their world' (275). This is seen by another study on Kenyan hip-hop rappers which shows how they engage in trilingualism and transculturalsim, or a study in South Africa are informed by Freire, again drawing on hip-hop, showing similar delinking of local identities.

[A personal story follows]. Niati was a refugee from the Congo to the US and met hip-hop as a teenager and was impressed. It helped her gain independence from her religious parents. She saw it as expressing the reality of her life. It is not just a passing fad but a critical cultural movement and thus a pedagogical tool.

Data was gathered over 23 months using a comparative case study approach (CCS), based in Senegal. Data collection went through 'rich connections' through UNESCO and other official research centres [not sure why -- YEM have a Facebook page] (276) [no further details of sampling?]. CCS apparently allows comparison across spaces, across scales and across time, and particularly focuses on the interconnections across dispersed locations. [see separate notes on Bartlett and Vavrus] [ I can't see much connection at all]

Six members of YEM were interviewed, five men and one woman, 30 – 40 years old [not youth then -- but age is an artificial construct they say]. Semistructured interviews. Three times. Questions focused on the transversal [B&V categories] — 'the macro and micro structures influencing the organisations, the comparative policies that inform their activism, and the historical ties that marry hip-hop, engagement, and schooling' (276). They also focused on counter stories designed to challenge majoritarian narratives, drawing on established traditions of storytelling. Members stories were used to develop theoretical sensitivity and give meaning to the data.

The findings insist that 'young people play a crucial role in the politics of history and of hegemonic struggles' especially directed at subjectification and social power dynamics. They are not defining young people particularly rigidly, but again in terms of an imagined and gendered category much like an imagined community, a social category. Hip-hop seems to provide 'a discursive space' to cultivate and reinforce identity, especially for 'those who feel "lost" or marginalised'(277) and a way to participate. [There is a link to being able to take action against oppression just as with Freirian education — limited, later in that hip-hop just creates the initial pedagogical space and challenge]. Hip-hop concerts apparently encouraged 'discourses of awareness citizenship and political engagement', not just by doing hip-hop but by being hip-hop.

Two extracts follow: one person says he has always been keen on hip-hop and sees it as a generational matter, closely connected to his desire to raise awareness. The researchers add that hip-hop obviously relates to the lived experiences of his surroundings, and led him somehow naturally to help found YEM. They emphasise delinking again and see hip-hop as the 'antidote' to politics [rather naïve] (278). Hip-hop 'encourages action towards self-determination'– speech about self-awareness and pan- African unity [again mostly through delinking, challenges to corruption, creating spaces for authentic expression, developing urban culture and ethnic identity, creating new types of Senegalese].  The researchers talk about organic intellectuals, developing new levels of imagination and agency, social consciousness, challenging Euro centrism, achieving critical consciousness as with Freire [although there is also a lot of should about this]

YEM also used street knowledge to be authentic via community projects designed to improve local environments. Hip-hop was used to disseminate these messages as were social media. 'Hip-hop can provide counter narratives that promote authenticity and self-determination' (279). Another extract apparently indicates this: this one talks about developing a new type of Senegalese, more self-reliant and honest, not relying on God to change things, more interested in ownership pride and leadership. YEM sees this as an African development [it's the old black pride shtick]. The new type of African is spreading among the young, the most powerful demographic. A critical hip-hop pedagogy may be the answer building on transnégritude and epistemic disobedience.

The conclusion seems to refer to the way in which YEM has used hip-hop as 'an ideology that centres social transformation and ownership' (280) via an imagined community and concepts like transnégritude. At least this shows that African youth are not easily duped, that they can develop a sense of shared struggle to resist and unify, that they can reconsider their lived experiences and develop a more authentic expression and promote social transformation. This social determination must be encouraged together with 'optimism, leadership and entrepreneurship' (281)

[Old hat, the latest in many studies about how popular music empowers sections of youth especially black youths, going back to gospel, soul, jazz, maracatu. Naïve about the way in which these tendencies tend to be reincorporated and commercialised. Methodologically highly dubious --youth themselves not interviewed.  Policies also not investigated – leadership and entrepreneurship to be encouraged. Imagined communities. I have a longer critical commentary on my Researchgate piece]


How promising are hip-hop lyrics for emancipatory youth movements. I looked at a very small sample, based on Rolling Stone's Top 100 most popular):

The Message (#1)

You'll grow in the ghetto, livin' second rate
And your eyes will sing a song of deep hate
The place, that you play and where you stay
Looks like one great big alley way
You'll admire all the number book takers
Thugs, pimps and pushers and the big money makers
Driving big cars, spendin' twenties and tens
And you wanna grow up to be just like them
Smugglers, scramblers, burglars, gamblers
Pickpockets, peddlers and even pan-handlers
You say I'm cool, I'm no fool
But then you wind up dropping out of high school

Rapper's Delight (#2)

I said-a hip, hop, the hippie, the hippie
To the hip hip hop-a you don't stop the rock
It to the bang-bang boogie, say up jump the boogie
To the rhythm of the boogie, the beat
Now what you hear is not a test: I'm rappin' to the beat
And me, the groove, and my friends are gonna try to move your feet
He may be able to fly all through the night
But can he rock a party 'til the early light?
He can't satisfy you with his little worm
But I can bust you out with my super sperm!"

A recent (May 2022) hip hop hit DN5

Take off the Chanel
Take off the Dolce
Take off the Birkin bag (take it off)
Take all that designer bullshit off
And what do you have? (bitch)

Huh, huh, uh, you ugly as fuck

[ie an ironic comment on consumerism as irrelevant to beauty, but little more than a platitute?]

Notes on: Tinson, C. & Carlos REC McBride (2013) Radical Teacher  Special Issue. 97. DOI: 10.5195/rt.2013.43

The review points out controversies for any intending teacher – hip-hop offers a closed universe, it is commercialised, it has contradictions [like all youth cubcultures and styles]. It has radical potential because it is grounded in lifestyles, but is still limited. It has been successfully linked to black protest movements over recent murders and demands for justice [in the USA?]. That is centred on a central figure, Assata Shakur,  the Black Liberation Army and also connections via Tupac Shakur, wanted by FBI. Whole movement of activism vocalises dissent but it ‘may be at odds with a music and asethetic climate that is indifferent if not hostile’ (3). Many who use hip hop are conventionally political – so there is a struggle about its role. A social protest dimenston is undoubtedly galvanised by globalisation and urbanization, police brutality etc, but there are contradictions – espepcially links with mainstream profit-driven  entertaintainment (3). Mostly, it is mediated via mas media although some local media involvement exists – but this is ‘far from achieving a critical mass’. There are some small offerings by HEIs, but little community participation [still all in the USA?].

There are problems over who should and can teach hip hop – practioners or philosophers? (4). Should it be combined with teaching of inequalities?  Especially racial ones? If so, maybe it should be taught by blacks? Whiteness to be criticised?  Or does hip hop transcend race as is often claimed –many enthusiasts not black. Studios etc are usually white. There is an ‘easy inclusivity’, but blacks have most at stake especially the African diasporic [in US then]. Anyone teaching it must also show expertise with the form and cullture, historical influences including religious and political. Transdiciplinary approaches seem best, focussing on articulations rather than methodology (5).

It is a growing topic on university curricula and this has helped expansion into mainstream – but may be a safe alternative to attract black students rather than black or ethnic studies,  which are declining in popularity.  One of the biggest courses is at NY Met –  it supports and professionalises practitioners [NB] practioners , and attempts to influence pedagogy and social policy. Another at Cornell is focused on ‘historical artefacts’ and accessibility, art and culture.  Arizona offers shared African and music options. All these could be a 'form of legitimiation', however, and ‘should not go unquestioned’ (5)

Scholars still feel vulnerable though [!], with only a marginal presence, still, dependent on individual interests. Will the subject ever be as transformative as say ethnic studies? How does hip hop studies relate? -- it is likely to be less widely challenging than black studies.However, black studies is now less engaging for ‘many stus’ (6). Hip hop might even help uproot the critical legacy of black and ethnic studies.

Some local projects have done well eg a literacy project in Washington run by a local MC working with school failures, analysing hip hop songs for their grammar and syntax, and aligning the results with national reading standards [good luck with the examples above!], and helping to develop voice and critique. Another by critical feminist writers is described (6–7). One inspiring high school teacher (7) uses hip hop in teaching about prison, gang violence, and in gaining personal testimony.

Overall, lots of challenges remain and must be responded to flexibly. Efforts must resist institutionalization. Hip hop admittedly downplays sexuality and gender including queerness, but hip hop studies offer promise to be the new lens.