Toussaint Nothias joined Stanford in September 2015 after earning his Ph.D. from the School of Media and Communication at the University of Leeds. His dissertation explores the representations of Africa in the French and British media through a critical analysis of newspaper articles, magazine covers, and interviews with foreign correspondents in Kenya and South Africa.
Historically, there has been a limited repertoire of images and narratives about Africa circulating in the Western world. A background of oppression and racism, from slavery to colonialism has shaped these reductive and negative representations. Nothias’s research focuses on the contemporary ramifications of these representations in the context of international news media.
Nothias examines the complexities facing foreign correspondents in Africa, as well as significant changes in media coverage of Africa over time. His research demonstrates that on one hand, journalists have commercial incentives to contribute to simplification and stereotypes as they think about their Western audiences. On the other hand, foreign correspondents often have a larger local following than that of their home country. Local African audiences increasingly use social media to keep journalists in check such as Kenyans on Twitter who rallied behind the #SomeOneTellCNN hashtag to challenge the labeling of Kenya as a “hotbed of terror” ahead of President Obama’s 2015 visit. This, Nothias argues, impacts journalistic practices and therefore, the media representations of Africa. His findings suggest current news coverage includes significantly more positive, optimistic discourse about an “Africa Rising”—challenging the conventional wisdom that Africa’s single story is only one of disaster and poverty. Nothias was recently awarded a grant from the British Academy to explore how Chinese economic and U.S. military involvement on the continent shape media representations of Africa.
Nothias teaches two courses at Stanford, Media and Conflict in Africa, and Media Representations of Africa. His seminars draw passionate students, and Nothias attributes the lively, stimulating discussions to the diverse range of his students’ academic and international backgrounds. His classes provide a critical foundation and interdisciplinary context not just for students in the humanities and social sciences, but also for those in STEM fields interested in working on the African continent.
These classes introduce students to African studies via media studies, for example, by reading Kenyan author and social critic Binyavanga Wainaina alongside Frankfurt school critical theorist Theodor Adorno. Nothias views this as an innovative way for his students to understand that social trends in Africa are not only relevant to Africa, but also to the rest of the world.
“A particularly striking aspect of our class discussion this year was that much of the phenomena we see in the U.S. media at the moment—extreme political polarization, social media bubble, adversarial positioning of the government towards the media, and fake news—have existed in one form or another in Africa for over 20 years,” he explains. “The implication of this collective discovery is that we can turn to the creative solutions developed in Africa to respond to these challenges in the United States. It echoes a point made by anthropologists Jean and John Comaroff, who argue that we should not look at Africa as lacking or behind, but rather as a continent shaped by economic and social trends that prefigure the global condition, including that of Euro-America. This subversive point, as one of my students noted, is also one that Trevor Noah regularly makes on the Daily Show!”
This spring, Nothias is organizing a workshop on African Media Studies in the Digital Age in conjunction with the annual conference of the International Communication Association. The workshop will bring together established and emerging scholars working on a range of issues related to digital media in Africa, from activist citizenship on YouTube Morocco to radio distribution in Ghana, and mobile social media in Zambia. For a full list of participants and topics, visit the workshop website
Toussaint Nothias is a Lecturer at the Center for African Studies at Stanford University. He is the author of several articles and book chapters, including "How Western Journalists Actually Write About Africa" (Journalism Studies, December 2016) and "Rising, Hopeful, New: Visualizing Africa in the age of globalization" (Visual Communication, July 2014).
Dr. Nothias presents his research during an Africa Table lecture on October 10, 2015 titled "Discourses and Practices of Foreign Correspondents in Kenya and South Africa." View more photos from this lecture