Joseph-Achille Mbembe, known as Achille Mbembe (born 1957), is a philosopher, political scientist, and public intellectual. He was born near Otélé in French Cameroons 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 Institut d’Etudes 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.
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, and a contributing editor of the scholarly journal Public Culture. He also has an annual visiting appointment at the Franklin Humanities Institute at Duke University.
His main research topics are African history 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, 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.
His central work in English, On the Postcolony, was released by University of California Press in 2001. 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. For instance, Africa is seen by the West, he argues, as "a headless figure threatened with madness and quite innocent of any notion of center, hierarchy, or stability ... a vast dark cave where every benchmark and distinction come together in total confusion, and the rifts of a tragic and unhappy human history stand revealed: a mixture of the half-created and the incomplete…in short, a bottomless abyss where everything is noise, yawning gap, and primordial chaos". 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. He adds, "Africa is the mediation that enables the West to accede to its own subconscious and give a public account of its subjectivity". In this sense, 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.
In his article "Necropolitics", Mbembe argues that "contemporary forms of subjugation of life to the power of death (necropolitics) profoundly reconfigure the relations among resistance, sacrifice, and terror". In this sense, 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 necropower, which goes beyond merely “inscribing bodies within disciplinary apparatuses”. In the era of necropower, “Technologies of destruction have become more tactile, more anatomical and sensorial, in a context in which the choice is between life and death”. As such, the era of necropower is characterized by the deployment of weapons “in the interest of maximum destruction of persons and the creating of death-worlds, new and unique forms of social existence in which vast populations are subjected to conditions of life conferring upon them the status of living dead”. The most proficient execution of necropower according to Mbembe “is the contemporary colonial occupation of Palestine”.
- 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
- 2013 Critique de la raison nègre
- Achille Mbembe, WISER Staff Profile
- Achille Mbembe to deliver a second “Thinking Africa” Public Lecture, Rhodes University, 5 July 2012
- Achille Mbembe, Profile at Public Culture
- Mbembe, Achille. "The Invention of Johannesburg". Slought Foundation. Retrieved 2011-03-23.
- 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
- Staff Profile at WISER, WITS University
- Novak, John L.; with Melissa Fernandez (2004), Achille Mbembe: A Bibliography (PDF), p. 14, retrieved April 2014