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Dr Ini Dele-Adedeji - Known unknowns and unknown unknowns: perception, reality, and disputation in the field of study on Boko Haram

Thursday 22 November 2018, 16:00 - 17:30
Baines Wing 1.15

The penultimate lecture in the LUCAS Autumn Term seminar series will be delivered by Dr Ini Dele Adedeji from the SOAS. Dr Dele-Adedeji will be presenting his paper: "Known unknowns and unknown unknowns: Perception, reality and disputation in the field of study on Boko Haram".


Compared to other movements bearing similar characteristics, the field of study on the Boko Haram sect can be described as a fledgling one. Put differently, the nascence of the subject itself (Boko Haram) can be argued to be largely responsible for the tranche of scholarship it has birthed in terms of structures, analytical thrusts, methodological approaches, and also the quantity of material produced so far. Of pertinence to the crux of this paper is the motif of discursive disputation within the literature on Boko Haram. On one hand, where the sect’s insurgency is concerned, Boko Haram has optimised the use of audio-visual modes (e.g. video recordings of its hostages, making threats, and of sermons) since its inception to project varying ideas. On the other hand, this hyper-visibility can be argued to be a controlled one, due to the relatively limited access of non-members to territories occupied by Boko Haram fighters, the insular ideology of the sect’s membership, and the overall difficulty of conducting fieldwork in northeast Nigeria and its neighbouring regions.

Within the tendencies in the literature on Boko Haram, schisms have developed in relation to what can be considered factual or reliable data and what is not, where the sect is concerned. The consequence of this divergence of views has been the recent production of discursive and counter-discursive scholarship centred around the question of what Boko Haram is and what it is not. This paper delves into the ongoing debate by critically exploring the academic and non-academic literature on Boko Haram with the aim of teasing out the different approaches adopted towards perceiving and analysing the sect. Relying on a combination of ethnographic fieldwork observations and a critical deconstruction of selected scholarship across the spectrum on Boko Haram, this paper argues that the disputations within the literature on the sect is indicative of the predominance of knowledge gaps in this area of study. Consequently, the normalisation of these gaps, aided by the lack of ‘’proximity’’ to access on Boko Haram-related data, has been instrumental in shaping popular perceptions of the sect as reality.