Achille Mbembe Lectures on Race Issues

On Monday, September 27, Colgate held its annual W.E.B. DuBois Lecture as part of African and Latin American Studies (ALST) Day.

Earlier Monday afternoon, ALST Day was celebrated in the O’Connor Campus Center (Coop) with live music from WRCU, trivia questions and free Mexican lime tortilla soup from Hamilton Whole Foods.

Responsibility for organizing the lecture rotates among the four components of the program: African Studies, African American Studies, Latin American Studies and Caribbean Studies.

“The goal of the lecture is to bring to campus a world class intellectual working in the areas of race, diaspora, power and identity,” Coordinator for African Studies Mary Moran said. Moran organized the DuBois lecture this year.

This year’s W.E.B. DuBois Lecture was given by Achille Mbembe. Mbembe, born in Cameroon, is among the world’s most prominent critical theorists and a leading voice in contemporary political practices. Focusing on post colonial studies writing, his work continues to influence and challenge contemporary scholarship on post colonial Africa and elsewhere.

Past speakers include Rex Nettleford, Ana Lydia Vega, Michael Thelwell and Kwame Anthony Appiah.

Current Visiting Professor of Romance Studies in the English Department at Duke University, Mbembe has his PhD in History from the Sorbonne and a degree in Political Science from the Institut d’Etudes Politiques de Paris. Mbembe has served on the faculty of several different institutions including Columbia University, the Brookings Institute, the University of Pennsylvania, UC Berkeley and Yale University. He was also the Executive Director of the Council for the Development of Social Science Research in Africa in Dakar, Senegal and research professor of history and politics at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa.

Mbembe has written extensively on the history and politics of Africa. His work includes the essay “Necropolitics” (2003) and “La naissance du maquis dans le Sud-Cameroun” (1996). His book On the Postcolony (2001) was given the 2006 Bill Venter/Altron Award.

“The theoretical impact of Mbembe’s work ensures his stature as one of today’s most compelling scholarly voices,” Associate Professor of Anthropology and Peace and Conflict Studies Nanncy Ries said. “His work constantly provides all of us new languages for thinking about the political upheavals of the past decades.”

Mbembe’s lecture focused on the work and writings of Frantz Fanon, a French philosopher and revolutionary from Martinique. Mbembe addressed how Fanon’s work should be viewed within the context of the 21 century and Mbembe also analyzed his beliefs on the trauma of racism, decolonization,

property and ownership of the self.

“If there is one clear set of edifices in Fanons work, it is a commitment to the powers of life. It lies in the urgency of returning time and again to the question of life, and what it ought to be,” Mbembe said.

Mbembe also discussed South Africa, where he has been living for the past ten years, calling it “a country that cannot stop questioning itself about its relationship with its past and its possibilities.”

“I really didn’t know anything about Mbembe or Fanon,” first-year JT Wheeler said, “but after the lecture I was definitely more interested in studying African history.”

“We are incredibly lucky this year to have two of the world’s most famous African intellectuals speaking on our campus in consecutive weeks,” Moran said.

Laurence S. Rockefeller University Professor of Philosophy at the Center for Human Values at Princeton and author of Cosmopolitanism, Kwame Anthony Appiah will speak at Colgate next Monday night, at 7:30 p.m. in the Chapel.