Africa at Noon for April 5, 2017

“Brokers in an Unequal World: African Middle Figures from Colonialism to the Present”

Rachel Silver
Doctoral Candidate in Anthropology and Educational Policy Studies
University of Wisconsin-Madison

Time and Location

12:00pm, 206 Ingra­ham Hall, 1155 Obser­va­tory Drive, Madi­son, WI


I draw from ethnographic and historical sources to tell the story of African “middle figures”—interpreters, civil servants, and cultural brokers—across time. After working to define the social category, I trace its production through a thorough review of interdisciplinary work, seeking to demonstrate how middle figures are gendered and racialized in the literature, and noting trends in how the study of middle figures has shaped analysis of broader political, economic, and social change in Africa.  Finally, I begin to theorize a post-colonial middle figure, and consider the extent to which the concept might be useful in complicating mainstream understandings of development.


Rachel Silver is a joint-degree doctoral candidate in Anthropology and Educational Policy Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.  She holds an M.A. in Anthropology from UW-Madison (2013) and an M.A. in African Studies from Yale University (2009). Rachel’s dissertation explores the relationship between discourse on girls’ education and sexuality in international development and the lives of student mothers in Malawi. Rachel is co-author of Educated for Change?: Muslim Refugee Women in the West (2012)—an ethnography of young women’s schooling experiences in Kenya’s Dadaab camps and northern New England—as well as chapters in edited volumes on globalization and education, forced migration in the global South, and meeting ethnography.