Anima Adjepong on Interdisciplinary Intuition

by | Dec 18, 2021

Imagine Otherwise: Anima Adjepong on Interdisciplinary Intuition

by Cathy Hannabach and Ideas on Fire | Imagine Otherwise | ep 144

An interdisciplinary approach to intuition

The massive changes we’ve collectively experienced over the past two years of a global pandemic have caused many of us to ask some big questions about who we are and what we want to be doing.

It’s also pushed us to embrace our embodied capacity and make conscious changes to nourish our spirit as well as our creative, professional, and communal goals for the future.

It seems only fitting that we close out 2021 with an episode about intuition, or how we learn to listen for and heed that internal voice, that internal sensation, that tells us what we really need.

In episode 144 of Imagine Otherwise, host Cathy Hannabach interviews Anima Adjepong about letting go of a scarcity mindset to make a big career leap before knowing how it will all play out.

Anima also shares how to use intuition to identify the book you really want to write rather than the one that feels more disciplinarily safe.

Finally, we wrap up the episode with a discussion of how we can embrace intellectual promiscuity to build a world in which community means being together in our differences.

In this episode

  • How to slow down and listen to your embodied intuition
  • Resisting a scarcity mindset to embrace big changes
  • Writing the book you really want versus the one that’s “safe”
  • Building community through difference
Anima Adjepong wearing a blue shirt. Quote reads: It's scary to begin listening to intuition. But in my experience, the more I listen to it, the stronger that voice gets, that desire gets, that place in my body that says, “Yeah, just do that thing” gets, and it has not led me wrong so far.

About Anima Adjepong

Anima Adjepong is a queer African immigrant living and working in the United States. They research, write, and teach about identity, culture, and social change and are particularly interested in how cultural struggles can bring about social transformation.

Anima organizes with Silent Majority, Ghana and is a member of the Black LGBTQIA+ Migrant Project (BLMP).

They are an assistant professor of women’s, gender, and sexualities studies at the University of Cincinnati and are the author of Afropolitan Projects: Redefining Blackness, Sexualities, and Culture from Houston to Accra (University of North Carolina Press, 2021).


Click to read the transcript

[00:00:00] Cathy Hannabach: Welcome to Imagine Otherwise, the podcast about the people and projects bridging art, activism, and academia to build better worlds. Episodes offer in-depth interviews with creators who use culture for social justice and explore the nitty-gritty work of imagining otherwise.

[00:00:19] I’m your host, Cathy Hannabach.

[00:00:23] The massive changes that we’ve collectively experienced over the past two years of a global pandemic have caused many of us to ask some pretty big questions about who we are and what we want to be doing.

[00:00:34] It’s also pushed us to embrace our embodied capacity and to make conscious changes to nourish our spirit as well as our creative professional and communal goals for the future.

[00:00:44] So it seems only fitting that we close out 2021 with an episode all about intuition, or how we learn to listen for and heed that internal voice, that internal sensation, that tells us what we really need.

[00:00:59] Listening to hear our intuition is a struggle for a lot of us as white supremacy, heteropatriarchy, and capitalism all collude to convince us that what we’re feeling somehow isn’t important or reliable.

[00:01:13] But our bodies and our communities? They keep track.

[00:01:17] So in the feminist spirit of slowing down and honoring our capacity, as well as our need for rest, starting in 2022, we will be releasing Imagine Otherwise monthly instead of biweekly. This will allow me and the rest of the Ideas on Fire team the space and the time to focus on creating fantastic episodes for you that showcase the worldmaking possibilities inherent at the intersections of art, activism, and academia.

[00:01:45] We’ll also be taking a short winter break, but we’ll be back in January with a brand new, exciting episode about what it means to begin again.

[00:01:55] But before that happens, I’m very excited to introduce you to our guest for this final episode of 2021, Anima Adjepong. Anima is the author of Afropolitan Projects: Redefining Blackness, Sexualities, and Culture from Houston to Accra, and their wide-ranging activist and scholarly work focuses on identity, culture, and social change.

[00:02:18] Anima has taught me an enormous amount about intuition as well as how interdisciplinary scholarship can help build the worlds that we want to live in.

[00:02:27] In our conversation, Anima and I chat about letting go of a scarcity mindset to make a big career leap before you know how it’s all going to play out.

[00:02:37] Anima also shares how to use intuition to identify the book that you really want to write, as opposed to the one that just feels more disciplinarily safe.

[00:02:47] Finally, we wrap up this episode with a discussion of how we can embrace intellectual promiscuity to build a world in which community means being together in our differences.

[00:02:58] Thank you so much for being with us today.

[00:03:01] Anima Adjepong: Absolutely. I’m really excited about this conversation.

[00:03:05] Cathy Hannabach: I’ve been having a lot of conversations with people lately about intuition and how the pandemic over the last two years has pushed a lot of folks to reassess how they want to be spending their time, particularly when it comes to our careers, which we spend a lot of our daily lives on.

[00:03:25] You’ve experienced some really exciting shifts yourself with regards to career and your professional endeavors over the last several years. What has been your journey through and beyond, and back again, through academia and what role has intuition or learning to listen to what you really want and need played in that process?

[00:03:46] Anima Adjepong: Yeah, I love this question. Thank you for it because I haven’t really, been asked to talk about these transitions before. I started making these moves prior to the pandemic that kind of slowed us all down and forced us to go inward.

[00:04:03] I had started my academic career teaching at Simmons University, which is a small women’s college, well university now, in Boston. It felt tense for me. It didn’t feel quite right, but I couldn’t figure out what it was and I needed to make a bold move.

[00:04:20] One of the things that I am aware of is that I’ve had a lot of good support from some of the faculty in my department when I was like, “Oh, I need to leave here. This isn’t working.” I’m thankful for that because it’s also not the sort of thing you do.

[00:04:36] One of the things I think about is the hubris of leaving a tenure-track position because we’re in this scarcity mindset about things.

[00:04:45] It was a very scary thing for me to do, to make the decision to leave my job with no certainty about what came next. But I need it to do it. And it’s hard to actually call it intuition at the time, because of how much fear there was about making that decision.

[00:05:04] But after I left my job, a lot of things really shook up and a lot of space opened up for me to really think, “Well, what am I doing? How did I end up here? And what do I actually want to be doing with myself?”

[00:05:16] The way that I would describe what happened next is a series of unexpected events and some faith in terms of trusting that what came next would come next and that I could move in it.

[00:05:31] After I left my job, I spent about a year just thinking, and there’s a great privilege in being able to spend a year just thinking and assessing, “Well, what do I want to do and how do I want to do that?”

[00:05:44] I was really forced to slow down and sit with myself and sit with all of the stress and anxiety that came with losing a part of my identity. I’d been in grad school for six years and then I’d been a professor for two years. And what was I now?

[00:06:00] I really needed to recognize that I was more than those things. But then what am I when I’m not those things?

[00:06:08] Sitting quietly really helped with being able to reassess. I spent time thinking about what kind of communities I wanted to be in. I spent time listening to my heart. In that process, I developed new relationships, new wonderful working relationships, and reoriented my relationship to academia. When I did eventually come back—I’m now an assistant professor of women’s, gender, and sexuality studies at the University of Cincinnati —I came back as a different person, on my own terms.

[00:06:42] All of the rules and regulations that had previously been perhaps subconsciously encoded were more conscious. And I could make conscious choices about how to engage with that.

[00:06:55] On the point of intuition, I remember a few years ago, my friend Kathy said to me —she’d done this workshop on intuition—and said, “It’s just that feeling that you just do the thing that you feel like doing.” And we’re just not typically encouraged to do that, but I’ve been really listening to that thing that I feel like doing, and it’s been wonderful.

[00:07:18] It’s scary to begin listening to it. But in my experience, the more I listen to it, the stronger that voice gets or that desire gets or that place in my body that says, “Yeah, just do that thing” gets, and it has not led me wrong so far.

[00:07:32] And the fear that comes with listening to that voice has also kind of tamed itself. It’s not completely gone, but there’s more space to hold that fear and still say, “I’m going to make that shift.” And it’s, it’s really quite wonderful and exciting.

[00:07:48] Cathy Hannabach: One thing that you’ve been working with through this exact process is what became this really amazing book Afropolitan Projects. One of the things that I noticed about that book when our team was working with you on it is the care with which you put together a pretty phenomenally interesting transnational ethnography.

[00:08:11] Can you maybe walk us through that process? What made you decide to focus in particular on your main ethnographic sites in the text, and how did you design an ethnography that could stretch across those two different sites?

[00:08:25] Anima Adjepong: Thanks for that question. I really appreciate hearing that the care comes across because it was important to me too.

[00:08:35] I came to care a lot about the people, the ideas, I was working with. They felt deeply personal, even as, of course, these are academic ideas.

[00:08:47] It was not initially conceptualized as a transnational study The first site was Houston, and working in Houston was not the most convenient choice I could make for this study. I was in graduate school at UT Austin. But the reason that I ultimately ended up in Houston for the first part of the study, was because that’s just where the work was. It was where there were Ghanaians that I could spend time in community with and that had an active community going.

[00:09:22] It’s one of the largest cities in the US; it’s also the most diverse city. It’s the site of so many immigrant communities. Things that are happening in Houston can tell us potentially something about what’s happening in other parts of the country. And there was something about Houston being a site of all these megachurches that was especially interesting to me to think with for these communities.

[00:09:44] But while I was there, for the first time in my experience, being an immigrant living in the US, I was like, “Whoa, it feels like being in Ghana.” These people talk as if they live in Ghana, but they live in Houston, Texas.

[00:10:01] Houston began to feel like an African city the more I spent time in this community. It became very clear that I needed to go back to understand what that relationship looked like.

[00:10:11] And so just kind of based on what my interlocutors were doing, going back and forth living as if they lived in both places, I became curious about the differences and the similarities between how people who actually lived full time in either place were engaging with the idea of a Ghanaian identity and the idea of an Afropolitan identity, which is a term that’s used to describe Africans who were either born or raised in the West and have close relationships to the African continent.

[00:10:44] But I actually argue in my book that Afropolitan has extended beyond that initial definition to also address folks who live on the continent and understand themselves to be Africans of the world. And so I wanted it to really get in there and be in Accra as well, to see how that was playing out.

[00:11:04] I have to admit that it wasn’t a pre-imposed design. I went in and I let the field teach me how to be in it.

[00:11:12] When I first got to Accra, I was doing some work with Drama Queens, which is a pan-African feminist group. They had invited me to do something and then I was hanging out with some other people. And as those kind of deep hangouts happened, the field told me this is where you need to turn and this is where you need to turn.

[00:11:30] Cathy Hannabach: Hearing you describe how you let the field tell you how the field needed how it needed to be engaged to be understood for the context of your research. It’s a different kind of intuition. Slowing down, listening, not pre-imposing a design from above or an assumption about what you think will happen but letting that knowledge and that experimentation come through engagement.

[00:11:57] Anima Adjepong: Yeah. And you know, the thing about it is, even as I’m saying it, it feels like admitting something naughty.

[00:12:04] Cathy Hannabach: We must have all the answers upfront!

[00:12:07] Anima Adjepong: Because the way that at least in sociology we’re trained is to have these very rational ideas and justifications for everything we do in advance. And, you know, it feels like a combat sport sometimes. I know the ways that I’m supposed to make these choices, but they don’t work in this context and I just don’t want to.

[00:12:31] I had more fun once I was in Accra than I did in Houston and in part it’s because being in Houston was about proving myself. My dissertation committee was wonderful but still the gatekeepers of the discipline. And so even as they kind of allowed me to stretch in certain ways, it was still part of their responsibility to ensure that I was doing methods right and I was doing sociology right.

[00:12:53] Something about that transition into a faculty position, into a full independent scholar, I was really invested in doing it the way that felt right. It was saying, “What are some shortcomings of the normative approach, and how might doing it this way allow us to understand something different about the site, about the field, about the people that the ways we’ve done it in the past haven’t offered?”

[00:13:19] I really hope that the book demonstrates that both from an ethos of care and love and also from a space of intellectual promiscuity and rebelliousness that ultimately allows us to understand African lives in a very different sort of way than has historically and dominantly been understood.

[00:13:41] Cathy Hannabach: I think what you’re describing is one of the best contributions of interdisciplinarity to thinking both with within and beyond the academy. And so many of the research topics that you’ve studied over the course of your career draw on that strength of interdisciplinarity.

[00:13:57] You’ve looked at cultural politics. You’ve looked at the politics of whiteness. You’ve looked at sports, queerness, a huge range of issues. And this ability to move across topics but find deep and significant connections between them is something that certainly shows up in your work and I think shows up for a lot of interdisciplinary scholars.

[00:14:18] I’d love to hear how you decide which thing to focus on next, because this is a huge problem for those of us who come out of interdisciplinarity. Everything could be a cool new project, right? It’s hard to decide. Everything’s a shiny new thing.

[00:14:34] What’s your process for choosing a new area of focus?

[00:14:38] Anima Adjepong: Yeah, I’m laughing a little bit at the question because it presumes that I have a process. But I will share that as I was doing this project in 2014, I went to Ghana. Going through immigration, there was a sign right as you get your passport stamped, that said something to the effect of “Welcome to Ghana. But if you’re here to do gay stuff, leave. You’re going to get in trouble, it’s going to be dangerous. For the benefit of you and everybody else, just leave.”

[00:15:11] And I thought, “Whoa, that is not a welcome sign.” I was there for just a couple of weeks. As I was leaving, I saw the women’s U-23 football team in the airport going to go play in Gambia or something. I don’t remember now which country they were going to. But I was like struck by the transmasculine embodiment of these women and how queer they were making this airport space that just two weeks before was like “The only people who are queer here are foreigners, and we would like you to leave.” And here was the women’s national team.

[00:15:44] That really stayed with me, and it got my mind going. I started having all these questions about the team about the role of political homophobia in shaping various experiences.

[00:15:55] Football is the national sport in Ghana and also like on the African continent. In the 1950s, just before Ghana gained independence, the president, before he became president, Kwame Nkrumah, was using football as an avenue to rally national consciousness. One of the first things Ghana did when it gained independence was joined the Confederation of African Football. CAF led a boycott of the FIFA world cup.

[00:16:21] So, you know, the sport has this great significance. In Ghana’s case, for example, the women’s national team is the first team to have made it to the World Cup. But I didn’t know any of these things when I saw the sign and I saw the players. What I knew was something interesting was happening here and it stayed with me. It didn’t leave.

[00:16:40] And then when I went back to do research for this current book, I got asked if I was a footballer in a lot of different instances, including again at the airport, as a kind of “Explain your transmasculine embodiment, what’s going on here?”

[00:16:53] So I thought, wow, like someone’s got to do something about this and that someone felt like me. It was like the project chose me. I saw what I saw. It felt interesting and stayed in my body. It needed a way to come out and pursuing the project is part of that shaping.

[00:17:12] I try not to stress out too much about what I’m going to do next because something always comes up. I’ve gained the discipline to follow it through and allow it to unfold for me. And I know that in the process of one thing, something else will come.

[00:17:27] And if it stays with me long enough, then I will pursue it because sometimes a lot of other things come up that are not big enough for me to pursue in any real kind of way. In my experience, the next thing shows up when it’s ready to show up and it starts unfolding, and then I find the time and the resources to make it happen.

[00:17:45] So I don’t know if that quite answers the question of process, but I hope it gives some insight into how I go about it.

[00:17:52] Cathy Hannabach: Absolutely. Absolutely. So this podcast is called Imagine Otherwise, and one of my favorite things to talk with folks about is the impetus behind all of these different endeavors, that version of a better world that you’re working toward when you slow down and listen to what new question might be something you want to pursue.

[00:18:14] What’s the world that you’re working toward? What kind of world do you want?

[00:18:19] Anima Adjepong: I really love this question. You know, I love people. I’m an introvert, so just in case anyone wants to hang out with me, I want to say that part first. But I love people. I love being around people. I love the sense of community that we can have when we can be vulnerable in space.

[00:18:36] I really like what Audre Lorde says about difference. It’s like that spark in which our most creative selves can come to fruition. That’s the world I’m working toward, a world in which in all of our differences, we can show up and be in community with one another and experience the pure pleasure of that. And I don’t mean that in this kind of utopic way in which there’s no pain or difficulty but that there’s a commitment to working through those because we’re committed to the sense of community.

[00:19:06] One of the ways that shows up for me is in my activist organizing. In the last year, for example, I’ve been a member of the Black LGBTQ Migrant Project, BNP. Becoming a member of the collective has been really wonderful because here I am now in conversation with other immigrants, other queer immigrants, and sharing in the experiences of what it means to be migrants at the center of empire, sharing, in solidarity, across what’s happening, , whether it’s in the Caribbean or it’s in Kenya or it’s in Ghana.

[00:19:41] I’ve also been organizing with Silent Majority Ghana, which is a really young group. We came together in February, after some authorities in Ghana shut down an LGBTQ center. Most of this year, queer people in Ghana have really been facing heightened assaults from the state, from the church, from the media.

[00:20:02] But what’s been wonderful is seeing more people coming together to speak out and challenge this kind of oppression. That kind of commitment to community and commitment to being able to be here in all our difference is part of what my work is about, whether it’s in the classroom or it’s in my scholarship or it’s in the activist or organizing communities I’m part of.

[00:20:25] I want to live in a world where I feel safe and where people less privileged than me feel safe, as we also navigate the unique paths that we’re on as human beings.

[00:20:36] Cathy Hannabach: Well, thank you so much for being with us today and sharing all of these amazing ways that you imagine otherwise.

[00:20:42] Anima Adjepong: Thanks for this invitation and I enjoyed being in conversation with you.

[00:20:45] Cathy Hannabach: Thanks for listening to another episode of Imagine Otherwise. Imagine Otherwise is produced by Ideas on Fire, and this episode was created by me, Cathy Hannabach. You can check out the show notes for this episode on our website at, where you can also read about our fabulous guest as well as find links to the people and projects we discussed on the show.

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