Achille Mbembe

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Achille Mbembe
Achille Mbembe 2.JPG
Otélé, Cameroon
Alma materSorbonne, Instituts d'études politiques
Known forNecropolitics
Scientific career
FieldsPhilosophy, political science
InstitutionsUniversity of the Witwatersrand, Duke University
InfluencesJean-Marc Ela, Frantz Fanon, Michel Foucault

Joseph-Achille Mbembe, known as Achille Mbembe (/əmˈbɛmb/; born 1957), is a Cameroonian philosopher, political theorist,[1] and public intellectual.[2]


Mbembe was born near Otélé in Cameroon in 1957. He obtained his Ph.D. in history at the University of Sorbonne in Paris, France, in 1989. He subsequently obtained a D.E.A. in political science at the Instituts d'études politiques in the same city. He has held appointments at Columbia University in New York, Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C., University of Pennsylvania, University of California, Berkeley, Yale University, Duke University and Council for the Development of Social Science Research in Africa (CODESRIA) in Dakar, Senegal.[1] He was assistant professor of history at Columbia University, New York, from 1988-1991, a senior research fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C., from 1991 to 1992, associate professor of history at the University of Pennsylvania from 1992 to 1996, executive director of the Council for the Development of Social Science Research in Africa (Codesria) in Dakar, Senegal, from 1996 to 2000. Achille was also a visiting professor at the University of California, Berkeley, in 2001, and a visiting professor at Yale University in 2003.[3] He was a research professor in history and politics at Harvard University's W. E. B. Du Bois Research Institute.[4]

He has written extensively in African history and politics, including La naissance du maquis dans le Sud-Cameroun (Paris: Karthala, 1996).[5] On the Postcolony was published in Paris in 2000 in French and the English translation was published by the University of California Press, Berkeley, in 2001. In 2015, Wits University Press published a new, African edition. He has an A1 rating from the National Research Foundation.[3]

Current appointments[edit]

Achille Mbembe about Les Atelier de la pensée, 2017

Mbembe is currently a member of the staff at the Wits Institute for Social and Economic Research (WISER) at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa,[2] and also has an annual visiting appointment at the Franklin Humanities Institute at Duke University.[6]

He is a contributing editor to the scholarly journal Public Culture.[7][8]


Mbembe's main research topics are African history, Postcolonial Studies and politics and social science. Although he is called a postcolonial theorist, namely due to the title of his first English book, he has thoroughly rejected this label more recently,[9] because he sees his project as one of both acceptance and transcendence of difference, rather than of return to an original, marginal, non-metropolitan homeland.

Mbembe’s most important works are: Les jeunes et l’ordre politique en Afrique noire (1985);[10] La naissance du maquis dans le Sud-Cameroun (1920–1960);[11] Histoire des usages de la raison en colonie (1996);[12] De la postcolonie. Essai sur l’imagination politique dans l’Afrique contemporaine (On the Postcolony) (2000);[13] Sortir de la grande nuit: Essai sur l'Afrique décolonisée (2003);[14] Critique de la raison nègre (2013).[15]

His central work, On the Postcolony, was translated into English and released by University of California Press in 2001.[13] This work has also been republished in an African edition by Wits University Press, and contains a new preface by Achille Mbembe. In this text Mbembe argues that academic and popular discourse on Africa is caught within a variety of cliches tied to Western fantasies and fears.[16] Following Frantz Fanon and Sigmund Freud, Mbembe holds that this depiction is not a reflection of a real Africa but an unconscious projection tied to guilt, disavowal, and the compulsion to repeat. Like James Ferguson, V.Y. Mudimbe, and others, Mbembe interprets Africa not as a defined, isolated place but as a fraught relation between itself and the rest of the world which plays out simultaneously on political, psychic, semiotic, and sexual levels.

Mbembe claims that Michel Foucault’s concept of biopower – as an assemblage of disciplinary power and biopolitics – is no longer sufficient to explain these contemporary forms of subjugation. To the insights of Foucault regarding the notions of sovereign power and biopower, Mbembe adds the concept of necropolitics, which goes beyond merely “inscribing bodies within disciplinary apparatuses”.[17] Discussing the examples of Palestine, Africa, and Kosovo, Mbembe shows how the power of sovereignty now becomes enacted through the creation of zones of death where death becomes the ultimate exercise of domination and the primary form of resistance.[18]

He has also examined Johannesburg as a metropolitan city and the work of Frantz Fanon.[2]

Mbembe, Wendy Brown, Judith Butler, and David Theo-Goldberg in 2016


Private life[edit]

Mbembe is married to Sarah Nuttall, who is Professor of Literary and Cultural Studies and Director of the Wits Institute for Social and Economic Research at the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg. They have written several texts together and have two children.[21]


  • 1985 Les Jeunes et l'ordre politique en Afrique noire, Éditions L'Harmattan, Paris 1985 ISBN 2-85802-542-8
  • 1996 La naissance du maquis dans le Sud-Cameroun, 1920–1960: histoire des usages de la raison en colonie.
  • 2000 De La Postcolonie, essai sur l'imagination politique dans l'Afrique contemporaine. (English edition On the Postcolony, 2001. Second revised French edition, 2005.)
  • 2000 Du Gouvernement prive indirect. (English edition On Private Indirect Government (State of the Literature), 2002.)
  • 2010 Sortir de la grande nuit – Essai sur l'Afrique décolonisée[22]
  • 2013 Critique de la raison nègre. (English edition Critique of Black Reason). 2017. Duke University Press. Translated by Laurent Dubois.
  • 2016 Politiques de l'inimitié
  • 2019 Necropolitics, Duke University Press, ISBN 978-1-4780-0722-7, doi:10.1215/9781478007227
  • 2020 Brutalisme Editions de la Découverte.


  1. ^ a b Achille Mbembe, WISER Staff Profile
  2. ^ a b c Achille Mbembe to deliver a second “Thinking Africa” Public Lecture Archived November 23, 2012, at the Wayback Machine, Rhodes University, 5 July 2012
  3. ^ a b "Achille Mbembe | Wits Institute for Social and Economic Research". Retrieved 2016-10-04.
  4. ^ "Achille Mbembe". Archived from the original on 2016-10-05. Retrieved 2016-10-04.
  5. ^ "La naissance du maquis dans le Sud-Cameroun". Retrieved 2016-10-04.
  6. ^ "Achille Mbembe | Forum for Scholars and Publics - Duke University". Retrieved 2016-10-04.
  7. ^ "Achille Mbembe" (faculty page). Division of Philosophy, Art, and Critical Thought, European Graduate School. Retrieved 2018-07-11.
  8. ^ "Achille Mbembe" (profile). Public Culture. Archived from the original on March 5, 2016. Retrieved 2018-07-11.
  9. ^ Mbembe, Achille. "The Invention of Johannesburg". Slought Foundation. Retrieved 2011-03-23.
  10. ^ "LES JEUNES ET L'ORDRE POLITIQUE EN AFRIQUE NOIRE - Mbembe J. A. - livre, ebook, epub". Retrieved 2016-10-04.
  11. ^ Mbembé, J.-A. (1996-01-01). La naissance du maquis dans le Sud-Cameroun, 1920-1960: histoire des usages de la raison en colonie (in French). KARTHALA Editions. ISBN 9782865376001.
  12. ^ Hamos, Hongla. "Mbembe (Achille): La naissance du maquis dans le Sud-Cameroun (1920–1960): histoire des usages de la raison en colonie". Revue française d'histoire d'outre-mer. 85 (321).
  13. ^ a b On the Postcolony.
  14. ^ Eyebiyi, Elieth P. (2010-11-29). "Achille Mbembe, Sortir de la grande nuit. Essai sur l'Afrique décolonisée". Lectures (in French). ISSN 2116-5289.
  15. ^ "Critique de la raison nègre - Achille MBEMBE - Éditions La Découverte". Retrieved 2016-10-04.
  16. ^ Mbembe, Achille (2001). On the Postcolony. Stanford: University of California Press. p. 3. ISBN 9780520204348.
  17. ^ 34
  18. ^ "Sign In". Retrieved 2016-10-04.
  19. ^ "Geschwister-Scholl-Preis". Archived from the original on 2017-10-22. Retrieved 2017-11-16.
  20. ^ "2014 | Gerda Henkel Stiftung". Retrieved 2018-08-07.
  21. ^ Zvomuya, Percy. "Wits all the Wiser for its vital literary couple". The M&G Online. Retrieved 2019-03-13.
  22. ^ Sandeep Bakshi. Book Review: Achille Mbembe: Sortir de la Grande Nuit: Essai sur l'Afrique Décolonisée. We Must Get Out of the Great Night: Essay on Decolonized Africa. International Feminist Journal of Politics. Special Issue: Murderous Inclusions. Vol. 15, no. 4.

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