Tips to get motivated for 2018: a winner’s story

Research grant gives recognition of hip hop in southern Africa

A new year brings with it new academic resolutions! So, what should you be aiming to do in 2018 for bettering your research skills?

We caught up with Janne Rantala, winner of the Colin Murray award for Postdoctoral Research in Southern Africa from the Journal of Southern African Studies, who shares his advice on getting motivated and making sure your research has maximum impact, as well as a background story to his prize-winning article.

Taylor & Francis offer hundreds of awards and prizes to researchers, including best paper prizes, scholarships, travel grants and society awards – find out more here.


From Janne Rantala

It was a revelation to receive the Colin Murray Award for Postdoctoral Research in Southern Africa from Journal of Southern African Studies (JSAS). The grant is given to engaged and original field research and it is not always easy to get support for such. It means recognition of the social significance of hip hop, particularly in southern Africa, where rap music and hip hop studies are not always regarded as serious areas for academic study.

As we welcome a new year, here are a few of my tips on how to stay motivated and receive recognition for your research, from my own experience leading to the award:

1. Write about what interests you

I always try to focus on themes which motivate and fascinate me, provoking my maybe childish curiosity.

2. Pay attention to detail

Try to pay attention to seemingly insignificant details, which sometimes transform something essential during the interpretation process.

3. Discuss your work and get feedback

Don’t be afraid to share your thoughts, observations and texts with colleagues and interested people within your research field. I love to receive dedicated critique, even from anonymous reviewers. It’s important to be humble and question your own thinking.

4. Discuss other’s work

I frequently comment on colleagues’ work, learning from it, in huge respect of their effort.

5. Give thanks

I find it extremely important to acknowledge those who have helped me, at any stage of my research.

Background to the prize-winning article

In my PhD I discussed urban popular memory in Mozambique, focusing on rappers’ contributions to history struggles in the capital and how critical rappers used voice and memory from the past to challenge present-day reality and politics. In my postdoctoral research, I aim to widen my perspective to analyze not only Maputo rap, but also other cities in Mozambique. In 2018 I will produce field material in Beira, which has a seemingly different popular memory than Maputo. I also aim to explore the transnationality of remembering in my future research.

In countries such as Mozambique, official forums such as South Africa´s famous Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), were never allowed at the national level. Local meetings and multi-regional gatherings such as hip hop events have, however, helped reconcile this. The common past is often remembered with the help of historical figures which I designed as political ancestors in my PhD. These figures may have been politicians, liberation fighters, journalists or intellectuals while still alive and after their death their political significance transformed. Often they died violently or in an otherwise wrong way and therefore they represent power of the weak independently of their position while still alive. Examples from Mozambican history are Samora Machel, Uria Simango, Gungunhany, Carlos Cardoso or some more recent victims of political violence such as Mahamudo Amurane or Gilles Cistac. These often controversial figures are invoked to articulate different positions in present day history struggles.


Janne Rantala defended his thesis in September 2017 at the University of Eastern Finland. His research interests include themes such as structure and liminarity, public memory, hip hop, poetic license and social movements. During 2018 he will do his postdoctoral research in the DST/NRF Flagship Programme, the Centre for Humanities Research (CHR), University of the Western Cape. During his PhD studies he was a visiting fellow at the Centro de Estudos Africanos in University Eduardo Mondlane, Mozambique, and spent shorter periods at the University of Dar es Salaam, Rhodes University, the Instituto de Ciências Sociais (ICS) at the University of Lisbon, the Nordic Africa Institute, and the University of Kwazulu-Natal. His recent work about Maputo rap,‘‘Hidrunisa Samora’: Invocations of a Dead Political Leader in Maputo Rap’, published in the JSAS, has been made free to access until the end of October 2018.