Last weekend, Binghamton University’s sociology department hosted a two-day conference celebrating the 40th anniversary of Walter Rodney’s book, “How Europe Underdeveloped Africa.”
Rodney, a former visiting professor at BU, first published the book in 1972 to argue that colonization by capitalist powers interrupted the independent development of African societies.
Rodney was assassinated at age 38 in 1980 by a bomb in Georgetown, Guyana, after continuous persecution for his research and opinions.
The conference, “40 Years On, 40 Years Forward, How Europe Underdeveloped Africa,” was held in the seminar room on the first floor of the Glenn B. Bartle Library and was attended by nearly 50 students, faculty and guests from other parts of North America, Europe and Africa, according to William Martin, chair of the sociology department.
Eleven speakers were featured at the conference, including BU faculty and guests representing several top-tier universities, such as Cornell and Syracuse. All of the speakers spoke highly of Rodney and his groundbreaking work, which shed light on issues that remained largely ignored in his time.
Michael O. West, distinguished professor of sociology, was a keynote speaker at the conference. He was selected because he met Rodney before his assassination and has since written books and articles on topics similar to Rodney’s. West commended Rodney because he was one of the only people to bring underdevelopment topics to light.
Komozi Woodard, a professor of history, Africana studies, and public policy at Sarah Lawrence College, said Rodney’s research was important and had an impact on him.
“It probably led me to go back to school,” Woodard said. “I was a community activist and didn’t know you could do that kind of scholarship.”
Woodard said West’s research on Rodney’s work was cutting edge, but the main point of the conference was to honor Rodney and his work.
“I think on the one hand we’re trying to remember Walter Rodney and the scholarship he did, and his dedication to Africana studies… but also I think we’re trying to figure out how to rethink Walter Rodney, and how to take the kind of work he was doing to the next step,” Woodard said.
Woodard also said he believes students would benefit from Rodney’s lessons.
“I think trying to get this generation of students to understand the world, and also learn how to change it, and having discussions about it is important,” Woodard said.
The main point of the conference was to acknowledge the importance of taking Rodney’s work to the next step, in addition to commemorating his original work, according to Woodard.
“Rodney and only really a few others, showed us what the possibilities were,” he said.