The 5th Session of African Studies Lecturer Series: Tradition, Integration and Change | The Concept of Brokerage in Anthropological Studies of Africa

On the afternoon of May 26th, 2021, the fifth session of “African Studies Lecturer Series: Tradition, Integration and Change” was held at Conference Room 205 of the Central Main Building, with the theme of “The Concept of Brokerage in Anthropological Studies of Africa”. Dr. Cheryl Mei-ting Schmitz, Research Scholar at the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science (MPIWG), was invited as the keynote speaker. Doctorate candidates and research professors at Institute for International and Area Studies, Tsinghua University (IIAS-THU) attended the offline lecture, while some external participants watched the live stream.

In this lecture, Dr. Schmitz reviewed the concept of brokerage in anthropological studies of Africa from four aspects, namely the definition of brokerage, the background of her fieldwork, the job description of broker and the agency problem. First of all, she introduced the theme of this lecture from the perspective of traditional moral judgment on brokers and economic activities. Then, Dr. Schmitz quoted the definitions of brokers by John Lindquist, Martijn Koster and Yves Van Leynseele and also explored the four development stages of anthropological brokerage studies in Africa, that is, the studies of social changes in the 1950s and 1960s, transactionalism in the 1970s, criticism of “methodological individualism” in the 1980s and 1990s, and the revival of brokerage studies in the early 21th century.

Later, taking her fieldwork as an example, Dr. Schmitz explained the background of her fieldwork and the cases of three representative brokers to the audience. Through case studies in the field, her research aims to explore the influence of brokers and brokerage activities on Angola’s economic and social development. In the last part of the lecture, Dr. Schmitz responded to the questions introduced at the beginning of the lecture and made an in-depth analysis of the agency problem. Her findings show that, unlike the negative evaluation of brokers and brokerage activities in traditional research, brokers and brokerage activities in Angola have promoted local economic and social development to a certain extent.

After the lecture, Dr. Schmitz discussed and interacted with the audience on the spot and online on this lecture and responded to some questions, such as fieldwork experience in Africa and the role of brokers in African economy.

Dr. Cheryl Mei-ting Schmitz is Research Scholar at the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science (MPIWG). She received her PhD in Anthropology in 2017 from the University of California, Berkeley. From 2017 to 2019, she was a Global Perspectives on Society Teaching Fellow at New York University Shanghai, and from 2019 to 2020, she was a Postdoctoral Fellow at the East China Normal University Research Institute of Anthropology. She engaged in long-term fieldwork in Angola. Her current research project, Chinese Ideas of Africa in an Age of Global Expansion, has examined connections between China and the African continent, in both intellectual and economic domains.

Text by: Wang Zijing
Typesetting by: Wang Zijing
Reviewed by: Dong Hui & Jiang Yuan