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"Blackness is indeed consciousness of black experiences" - Gabriel Apata reviews Critique of Black Reason

In Critique of Black Reason eminent critic Achille Mbembe offers a capacious genealogy of the category of Blackness – from the Atlantic slave trade to the present – to critically reevaluate history, racism, and the future of humanity.

Mbembe teases out the intellectual consequences of the reality that Europe is no longer the world’s center of gravity while mapping the relations between colonialism, slavery, and contemporary financial and extractive capital.

Tracing the conjunction of Blackness with the biological fiction of race, he theorizes Black reason as the collection of discourses and practices that equated Blackness with the nonhuman in order to uphold forms of oppression. Mbembe powerfully argues that this equation of Blackness with the nonhuman will serve as the template for all new forms of exclusion.

With Critique of Black Reason, Mbembe offers nothing less than a map of the world as it has been constituted through colonialism and racial thinking while providing the first glimpses of a more just future.

Here, Dr. Gabriel O Apata reviewed Critique of Black Reason for the journal Theory, Culture & Society:

Kant’s first Critique may be described as an attempt to hoist reason up out of the contamination and impurities of subjectivity and relativity onto to a transcendental plane where alone it can possess objectivity and universality. This then is pure reason, whose critique lays down the law for very basis for human knowledge, its limits and which asks whether metaphysics is at all possible. But Kant’s universality turns out not to be universal after all since it excludes or does not admit of certain groups, in particular black people on the basis that they lack reason. The question is can there be such a thing as black reason? If reason does come in colours could it ever be objective? This is the question that Achille Mbembe in his new six-chaptered book Critique of Black Reason (2017) sets out to explore. Mbembe not only believes there is such a thing as black reason but he thinks he knows what it is and what stuff it is made of.

So what is black reason? According to Mbembe ‘Black reason consists of a collection of voices, pronouncements, discourses, forms of knowledge, commentary and nonsense, whose object is things or people of “African origin” (p.27). He goes on to say that ‘Black reason names not only a collection of discourses but also practices….’ (p.28). But this will not do since this definition of black reason can equally apply to any other group. For instance if we substitute the ‘black’ and ‘African origin’ in his statement for ‘white’ and ‘European origins’ we end up with nothing to distinguish between the two except difference in cultures. But hold that thought, because that is precisely Mbembe’s point. The Western idea of reason is different from black or African idea of reason because both are products of different geographies (Europe and Africa) and also experiences. Mbembe suggests that contact between both worlds has produced two narratives: the Western Consciousness of Blackness and Black Consciousness of Blackness.

With regards to White consciousness of blackness Mbembe takes us on a historical tour, through the vicissitudes of the black experience that have shaped black consciousness, which are the three most important epoch-making events in black history: slavery, colonialism and Apartheid. This is the familiar story of conquest, oppression, subjugation, persecution and so on. Western consciousness of blackness is thus a category construct that is like a prison within which are quartered cellars and doors through which the black man passes or is let through, at will, into rooms, as though on a production line where he is shaped, boxed, stamped and eventually produced, as blackness. Like the slaves in Plato’s cave, blackness is shackled against a wall where it sees only images and not reality and where he is denied not only freedom, but also the light of reason. It cannot attain knowledge of pure forms but only copies of reality, hence it cannot be admitted into Kant’s kingdom of ends. They have no access to the realms above because, as we mentioned, they lack reason. As Mbembe points out, ‘Reason in particular confers on the human a generic identity, a universal essence, from which flows a collection of rights and values. It unites all humans…. The question …was whether blacks were human beings like all others’ (p.85). The answer for many was no. Indeed, Kant’s second formulation of the categorical imperative that exhorts us to treat humanity not as a means but as an end in himself did not apply to black people. The idea of absolute or intrinsic value, of ‘supreme limiting condition’ that Kant thought is the very measure of humanity also did not apply to the black man for the same reasons as stated above. Hence the justification for their use as instrumental value.

With regards to black consciousness of blackness, Mbembe points out that ‘Black – we must not forget – aspires also to be a color. The color of obscurity. In this view Black is what lives in the night. Night is its original envelope, the tissue out of which its flesh is made. It is a coat of arms, its uniform’ (p.152). Psychologically, Black is like a victim of locked-in syndrome, within a skin that the bearer never chose but within the confines of which the victim is aware of what is happening to him but remains powerless to express thoughts and feelings. In this prison only two options are open to the black man, either to acquiesce and die or struggle and survive. Out of this fight for survival ‘the struggle to the death’ emerges the narrative of black consciousness.

But Mbembe’s idea of two consciousnesses is classic Hegelian master and slave dialect, a co-dependent relationship in which both are trapped, and within which each holds up a mirror to the other and from the ensuing reflection both become conscious (aware) of each other and of themselves.

Continue reading Apata’s review here.

Book details

Read an interview with Larry Swatuk, author of Water in Southern Africa

The University of Waterloo’s Water Institute conducted an interview with Larry Swatuk who recently published his ninth book, Water in Southern Africa.

Here, Swatuk discusses the book, how water professionals and policy makers can be better educated on matters related to water, and the socio-political and socio-economic limitations which challenge water preservation:

Water Institute member and professor in the School of Environment, Enterprise and Development, Larry Swatuk, is the author of a new book titled Water in Southern Africa.

Larry lived for 14 years in Africa, primarily in Botswana, where he was a lecturer at the University of Botswana and associate professor of Resource Governance at the Okavango Research Institute. He has published extensively on issues pertaining to the ‘wise use’ of the resources of the Okavango River basin.

Partly due to his training in political science and international relations, Larry specializes not only in decision-making around the use of water resources, but in the training of decision makers for dispute resolution and negotiation on these same resources.

His current research interests focus on the unintended negative consequences of climate change adaptation and mitigation interventions, a concept he labels ‘the boomerang effect.’

In his new book – the first volume in the Off-Centre series which focuses on the social, political and cultural life of South Africa and the southern African region – he argues that we must learn to see water and the region differently if we are to meet present challenges and better prepare for an uncertain, climate-changing future.

We had the opportunity to ask Larry questions about his new book, challenges facing the world water resources, and why interdisciplinary collaboration is important when it comes to tackling complex water problems.

In your publication, “Seeing Invisible Water Challenges,” you talk about a ‘blue water bias’ that exists that makes a “majority of water professionals and policy makers blind to the significant amounts of green water available for human needs.” How can we better educate water professionals and policy makers on the concepts and applications of green water and virtual water?

There is a great deal of path dependence in science – and in life. We are all creatures of habit who grow comfortable trodding along the same path. Every once in a while there is a break from the routine, an idea or an insight emerges to shake us up. It is interesting to note that virtual water – a concept first articulated by Tony Allan for which he was awarded the Stockholm Water Prize some years back – has had greater purchase across the water world than has the idea of green water. Irrigation engineers, however, are well-versed in green water analysis, and rightly so, for most of the world’s food production depends on rainfall or, in Malin Falkenmark’s and Johan Rockstrom’s words: where the rain drop hits the soil. But policy makers and the private sector remain enamored of blue water perhaps because there is more immediate political and economic pay-off to damming, diverting and draining available blue water. Perhaps also, the systems in place have been designed by powerful actors interested in capturing the available resource which, historically, was the water we could see. Beyond the well-watered parts of the world, ‘developing’ states aimed to mimic their ‘developed’ counterparts by capturing water.

Water, in this context, is power: political, economic and social. In my view, powerful actors will continue to be blind to the benefits of green water, and to the potential hazards of living beyond their own water barriers because of current capabilities to import cheap food (i.e. virtual water). But their blindness need not lead us down the same dark path.It also reveals to us the fallacy of many claims pertaining to the state of the world’s water resources: that we are running out, that we are facing a water war, and so on.

In your new book, Water in Southern Africa, you do not shy away from the fact that the challenges for sustainable water management are immense. Drawing on the southern African experience, you argue that we must learn to “see water and the region differently if we are to meet present challenges and better prepare for an uncertain, climate-changing future.” Can you expand on this thought?

It is fitting that a pool of water acts as a mirror. For, in my view, the state of the world’s water resources reflects very accurately the state of our societies. How water is accessed, used and managed clearly shows us the problems and possibilities not only for resource sustainability, but for social inclusion, social justice, and sustainable development broadly defined.

Too much water use research commences from an ahistorical, asocial largely technical and economic perspective. Put differently, whoever has the money and the power gets the water. So, ‘shortages’ are not biophysical, but socio-economic and socio-political. Let me give you an example from Southern Africa, though it is hardly unique in this regard: the region is often portrayed as a ‘success story’ of inter-state cooperation on transboundary waters. At the same time, all countries in the region ‘struggle’ to provide adequate water for the needs of all of their citizens. Are these two separate phenomena? No, they are not, though they are often presented as such. In the case of the former, there is said to be ‘progress’ deriving from human resource capability, adequate finance and so on. In the case of the latter, there is said to be ‘limited or uneven progress’ deriving from the absence of the same. But, in my view, if we see where the water flows, how, to whom and for what purpose, we can clearly see that these conditions are two sides of the same coin. As the saying goes, the first law of hydrology is that water flows toward money. Without doubt, many water challenges may be met with the application of good science supported by adequate finance and appropriate forms of governance and management. But, as a cursory view of the water world shows us, too few people are served by our current approaches and practices.

Continue reading the interview here.
 
About the book:

When it comes to water, we are fed a daily diet of doom and gloom, of a looming crisis: wars of the future will be over water; nearly one-billion people lack access to clean water; river basins are closed so there is no more water to be allocated despite ever-growing demand; aquifers are overdrawn to such an extent that a global food crisis is just around the corner and major cities, such as Bangkok and Mexico, are sinking. And let us not forget about pollution or vector-borne diseases.

The challenges for sustainable water management are massive. Yet, as shown in this book, there are many positives to be drawn from the southern African experience. Despite abiding conditions of economic underdevelopment and social inequality, people rise to the challenge, oftentimes out of necessity and through self-help, but sometimes through creative coalitions operating at different scales – from the local to the global – and across issue areas – from transboundary governance to urban water supply. This first volume in the Off-Centre series argues that we must learn to see water and the region differently if we are to meet present challenges and better prepare for an uncertain, climate-changing future.

Water in Southern Africa

Book details

Crossing the Divide shows how strategies are emerging in the Global South to bridge the divide between the formal and informal economy

While work-related insecurities and worker vulnerability induced by neoliberal globalisation are undeniably affecting an increasing number of workers around the world, Crossing the Divide reveals that the history and legacy of colonialism is shaping the response of the Global South in ways that are quite different from that of the North.

Comparing precarious work in India, Ghana and South Africa, this book shows how innovative organisational strategies are emerging in the Global South to bridge the widening divide between the formal and informal economy.

Farm workers in Ghana, India and South Africa are challenging colonial-type work practices. Municipal workers in Johannesburg and Accra are organising collectively. In the cities of India, Ghana and South Africa, workers in domestic service, unregulated factories and home-based work face difficult conditions with little or no union representation.

Yet, these vulnerable workers are engaging in a range of creative strategies to fight for decent work and living conditions.

The studies in this collection are predominantly ethnographic, drawing on the experiences of vulnerable workers through in-depth interviews, observation and, in some cases, large-scale surveys.

Together they uncover the largely invisible world of the informal economy and vulnerable workers. Crossing the Divide makes clear that informal workers are not passive victims but are building new forms of collective solidarity to promote their rights and interests.

Edward Webster is Professor Emeritus in the Society, Work and Development Institute (SWOP) at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg. He is the author of more than 100 scholarly publications, including Grounding Globalization: Labour in the Age of Insecurity (2008), written with Rob Lambert and Andries Bezuidenhout. The book won the American Sociological Association’s Labor and Labor Movements Section Distinguished Monograph Prize.

Akua Opokua Britwum is an Associate Professor at the Centre for Gender Research, Advocacy and Documentation (CEGRAD) at the University of Cape Coast in Ghana. Her publications cover gender-based violence, gender and economic participation, trade union democracy, and labour force organisation in the informal economy.

Sharit Bhowmik was Professor and Chairperson of the Centre for Labour Studies at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences in Mumbai. He engaged in labour studies throughout his working life, with a particular interest in plantation labour and informal work. He was a member of the Subgroup on Plantation Labour of the National Advisory Committee in India and a member of the Expert Committee on Street Vendors in Mumbai.
 

Book details

  • Crossing the Divide: Precarious Work and the Future of Labour edited by Edward Webster, Akua O. Britwum, Sharit Bhowmik
    EAN: 9781869143534
    Find this book with BOOK Finder!

Listen to the recording of the launch of Critique of Black Reason

Renown philosopher, political theorist and intellectual, Achille Mbembe, recently launched his latest book, Critique of Black Reason, at Wits Institute for Social and Economic Research (WiSER).

Moderated by Sarah Nuttall, associate professor of literary and cultural studies at WiSER, Mbembe was in conversation with Bongani Madondo, Candice Jansen, Victoria Collis-Buthelezi, Claudia Gastrow, and Rogers Orock.

Nuttall expressly stated that each panelist had 10 minutes to deliver his or her comments on Critique of Black Reason which most of them managed to do.

Mbembe opened the discussion by giving a brief overview of his book and how moving to American made him realise that he had never confronted slavery; this motivated him to write Critique of Black Reason.

The panelists shared their opinions of the book’s content, varying from commenting on black student activists, questioning the absence of black women in the book, and the book’s relevance in relation to the history of slavery and colonialism.

Nuttall’s strict adherence to time-keeping meant that Mbembe was unable to respond to the questions and comments raised by the panel, to which he laughingly replied “Thank you for saving me from flagellation!”

He thanked the panelists for their “subtle, powerful criticism”, after which he elaborated on the translation of the original French title, Critique de la raison nègre.

“‘Nègre,” Mbembe related to the audience, translates to “an object which is bought or sold, or a currency through which the exchange is made.”

After this powerful statement, Nuttall mentioned that WiSER has created a reading group, open to the public, in which books such as Critique of Black Reason will be discussed.

Listen to the recording here:


Critique of Black Reason

Book details

"This book is an attempt to make sense of black life and black history from a continental perspective" - Achille Mbembe at launch of Critique of Black Reason

Renown philosopher, political theorist and intellectual, Achille Mbembe, recently launched his latest book, Critique of Black Reason, at Wits Institute for Social and Economic Research (WiSER).

Moderated by Sarah Nuttall, associate professor of literary and cultural studies at WiSER, Mbembe was in conversation with Bongani Madondo, Candice Jansen, Victoria Collis-Buthelezi, Claudia Gastrow, and Rogers Orock.

Nuttall expressly stated that each panelist had 10 minutes to deliver his or her comments on Critique of Black Reason which most of them managed to do.

Mbembe opened the discussion by giving a brief overview of his book and how moving to American made him realise that he had never confronted slavery; this motivated him to write Critique of Black Reason.

The panelists shared their opinions of the book’s content, varying from commenting on black student activists, questioning the absence of black women in the book, and the book’s relevance in relation to the history of slavery and colonialism.

Nuttall’s strict adherence to time-keeping meant that Mbembe was unable to respond to the questions and comments raised by the panel, to which he laughingly replied “Thank you for saving me from flagellation!”

He thanked the panelists for their “subtle, powerful criticism”, after which he elaborated on the translation of the original French title, Critique de la raison nègre.

“‘Nègre’,” Mbembe related to the audience, translates to “an object which is bought or sold, or a currency through which the exchange is made.”

After this powerful statement, Nuttall mentioned that WiSER has created a reading group, open to the public, in which books such as Critique of Black Reason will be discussed.

A recording of the discussion will be available soon.

Critique of Black Reason

Book details

Multilingualism and Intercultural Communication caters for the changing sociolinguistic dynamics in SA

Multilingualism and Intercultural Communication places valuable emphasis on a language implementation plan that will encourage the intellectualisation of indigenous African languages.Linda Kwatsha, Department of Language and Literature, Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University

This book offers a unique South African perspective, offering practical solutions to address the language deficit characterising South Africa institutions of Higher Education.
- Somikazi Deyi, Department of African Languages, University of Cape Town

To date, there has been no published textbook which takes into account changing sociolinguistic dynamics that have influenced South African society.

Multilingualism and Intercultural Communication
breaks new ground in this arena. The scope of this book ranges from macro-sociolinguistic questions pertaining to language policies and their implementation (or non-implementation) to micro-sociolinguistic observations of actual language-use in verbal interaction, mainly in multilingual contexts of Higher Education (HE).

There is a gradual move for the study of language and culture to be taught in the context of (professional) disciplines in which they would be used, for example, Journalism and African languages, Education and African languages, etc. The book caters for this growing market. Because of its multilingual nature, it caters to English and Afrikaans language speakers, as well as the Sotho and Nguni language groups – the largest languages in South Africa [and also increasingly used in the context of South African Higher Education].

It brings together various inter-linked disciplines such as Sociolinguistics and Applied Language Studies, Media Studies and Journalism, History and Education, Social and Natural Sciences, Law, Human Language Technology, Music, Intercultural Communication and Literary Studies.

The unique cross-cutting disciplinary features of the book will make it a must-have for twenty-first century South African students and scholars and those interested in applied language issues.

Book details

  • Multilingualism and Intercultural Communication: A South African Perspective edited by Ekkehard Wolff, Pamela Maseko, Russell Kaschula
    EAN: 9781776140268
    Find this book with BOOK Finder!