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Mon, Oct 30

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Center for African Studies

African Studies Workshop | Harvard University

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African Studies Workshop | Harvard University
African Studies Workshop | Harvard University

Time & Location

Oct 30, 2023, 4:00 PM EDT – Oct 31, 2023, 6:00 PM EDT

Center for African Studies , 1280 Massachusetts Ave, Cambridge, MA 02138, USA

About the Event

The African Studies Workshop at Harvard continues this year with a new and exciting schedule of presenters. The presenters' papers explore Africa’s changing place in the world - and the new economies, legalities, socialities, and cultural forms that have arisen there. We shall also interrogate the claim that the African present is a foreshadowing of processes beginning to occur elsewhere across the globe; that, therefore, it is a productive source of theory and analysis about current conditions worldwide. At each workshop, a scholar presents a paper on one facet of the rapidly changing position of Africa in the global political economy and the impact of that change on global distributions of wealth, well-being, and power. Then a discussant provides commentary followed by an open discussion, in which students are given the floor first, followed by anyone else in attendance. Workshop presenters are scholars of high international repute as well as up and coming Africanist intellectuals.

Presenting: Bottled: How Coca-Cola Became African with Sara Byala

Abstract: Travel to virtually any African country and you are likely to find a Coca-Cola, often a cold one at that. Bottled asks how this carbonated drink became ubiquitous across the continent, and what this reveals about the realities of globalisation, development and capitalism. Bottled is the first assessment of the social, commercial and environmental impact of one of the planet’s biggest brands and largest corporations, in Africa. Sara Byala charts the company’s century-long involvement in everything from recycling and education to the anti-apartheid struggle, showing that Africans have harnessed Coca-Cola in varied expressions of modernity and self-determination: this is not a story of American capitalism running amok, but rather of a company becoming African, bending to consumer power in ways big and small.

In late capitalism, everyone’s fates are bound together. A beverage in Atlanta and a beverage in Johannesburg pull us all towards the same end narrative. This story matters for more than just the local reasons, enhancing our understanding of our globalised, integrated world. Drawing on fieldwork and research in company archives, Byala asks a question for our time: does Coca-Cola’s generative work offset the human and planetary costs associated with its growth in the twenty-first century?

Sara Byala is a Senior Lecturer in Critical Writing at the University of Pennsylvania and the Associate Director of the Penn Global Documentary Institute (PGDI). South African born, Byala holds a PhD from Harvard University and a BA from Tufts University. Her research into the ways that capitalist systems intersect with social and cultural forces in Africa culminated in Bottled: How Coca-Cola Became African (Hurst, 2023). Based upon extensive archival research and fieldwork in Africa, Bottled suggests that the history and footprint of Coca-Cola in Africa is best understood as evidence of the company’s localness. Byala’s early work explored the import of colonial archives in post-apartheid South Africa through the biography of a cultural history museum and resulted in A Place that Matters Yet: John Gubbins’s MuseumAfrica in the Postcolonial World (University of Chicago Press, 2013). She is currently embarking on a new project relating to religion and migration on the African continent. Byala has taught a wide range of courses about Africa, including ones on Coca-Cola, soccer, truth commissions, and cocoa. She also regularly teaches global seminars, which include travel to countries in Africa.

We encourage all of our friends in the Cambridge area to join us in-person in the CAS Seminar Room. For those who would like to join online, please register for the Zoom link. 

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