25th February 2015  |  News

Last Friday I took a trip to Oxford University to carry out some archival research for my dissertation in African Studies. I was there to look at the ‘the Ranger Papers’, a collection donated in 2007 by the late historian Terrence Ranger (1929-2015), an English Oxford graduate who became ‘A champion of African nationalism, and one of the continent’s most radical and influential historians’. The Ranger Paper’s included a detailed recording of the ten years he had been living in Southern Rhodesia between 1957 and 1967. (Ranger,2013,p. xi) Amongst documents such as personal correspondence between Ranger and key Zimbabwean political figures there was a stack of newspaper cuttings. I came across one cutting dated October 1961 which had the image of a British student protest in London. The students were marching to protest the imprisonment and detainment of Jomo Kenyatta who would go on to be Kenya’s first President of the independent Kenyan state in 1954. The student march is a symbol of unity and solidarity across the globe and in the terms of the sociologists Francesca Polletta and James Jasper’s theory, an image of ‘collective identity’. (Polletta & Jasper, 2001, p. 285) Polletta and Jasper define ‘collective identity’ as:

‘an individuals’ cognitive, moral and emotional connection with a broader community, category, practice or institution. A perception of a shared status or relation, which may be imagined rather than experienced directly, and it is distinct from personal identities, although it may form part of a personal identity’. (Polletta & Jasper, 2001, p. 285)

The newspaper cutting is an excellent example of how ‘collective identity’ spans across the globe and can be displayed through protest movements. In the image the students are holding placards with slogans such as ‘OUTLAW RACE’ and ‘Freedom for Africa Now’ which indicates that the march was in support of the wider struggle for the African continent to be freed from colonialism and imperialism. The collective identity, which in this case could be termed ‘Pan-Africanism’, displays the unity of British students with the Kenyan campaign to free Jomo Kenyatta. Student Protest London October 1961

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