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African Political Philosophies

Lecturer: Peter Gratton

Originally Taught: Summer School 2022

The study of political philosophy worldwide is not just dominated by a few Western figures, but is also guided by concerns often seen as abstract and of little relevance to developments in Africa and elsewhere. This short course looks to provide an introduction to African political philosophy in the post-colonial context. African Philosophy as a self-demarcated field is only decades old—though the African archive of thought is perhaps older than any—and was formed in the heady days of widespread national liberation, sustained itself during the most difficult periods of neocolonialism and fraternal violence, and today offers promising lines of inquiry that could reshape the whole of philosophy in the future. Political philosophy from out of Africa mirrors this historical context, forging works that attempt to follow the difficult trajectory from traumatic memory to political and communal hope.

Most work on Africa tends to focus on viewing its communities as all-but-passive recipients of movements and forces arriving from the West: the horrors of slavery, colonialism, and racism; the Manichaean Cold War-era bifurcation of the continent in a wider war over the fate of communism; the blank slate onto which Western neoliberal dreams of triumphant capitalism can be realized; etc. The goal, ultimately, is to arrive at the end of the course better able to show how, with the provincialization of Europe, Africa’s political philosophers see the future as anchored by Africa as a true subject of world history. The syllabus of readings below focus on those writers in dialogue with Continental thinkers, all to allow a more fruitful discussion of how these philosophers recognize specific African differences in thinking and political existence.

Each class begins with a pre-written lecture shared via the screen, with plenty of pauses when needed for questions and comments. We then proceed by using the reminder of the time as a seminar engaged in the questions raised by the readings:

Lectures 1-2:

This class takes up the physical and epistemic violence of colonialism with readings that also offer wider lessons about the legitimization of violence within politics and the modes of resistance necessary in the wake of psychic colonialism and self-Other misrecognition.


  • Aimé Césaire, Discourse on Colonialism (1950, selections)
  • Frantz Fanon, Wretched of the Earth (1961, selections)
  • Kwame Nkrumah, “Consciencism: Philosophy and Ideology for Decolonization” (1965, selections)
  • V. Y. Mudimbe, The Invention of Africa. Gnosis, Philosophy, and the Order of Knowledge (1988, book).

Lectures 3-4:

At the heart of African ontologies are critiques of Western atomized conceptions of individuality and the politics and ethics that follows from it. In these classes, we read about a supposed African communalism that grounds many political discussions. This will lead us into questions about whether such a communalism can be found in pre-colonial archives; whether such a communalism is inherently reactionary and conservative, i.e., traditionalist; and how contemporary thinkers have posited such a communalism without lapsing into forms of essentialism. 


  • Kwame Gyekye, Tradition and Modernity,” from Tradition and Modernity: Philosophical Reflections on the African Experience (1997, selections)
  • D. A. Masolo, Self and Community in a Changing World (2010, selections)
  • Leopold S. Senghor, “On Negrohood: Psychology of the African Negro,” African Philosophy: Selected Readings, ed. A. Mosley (1995)
  • Ifeanyi Menkiti, “Community, Communism, Communitarianism: An African Intervention” (2017)
  • Nkiru Nzegwu, Family Matters: Feminist Concepts in African Philosophy of Culture (2007, selections)

Lecture 5:

In this class, we chart, by way of Achille Mbembe, the various paths to thinking Afropolitanism, which argues that the future of the world is to be found in lived everyday experiences found in the arts, music, philosophies, and communities of Africa. This will mean reviewing previous ways of depicting Africa in the pan-Africanist and Negritude movements. Of note will be Mbembe’s concern that if the world is to become “black,” it must avoid the horrors of globalizing the horrors of commodifying the human being found in African enslavement.


  • Achille Mbembe, Critique of Black Reason (2013, selections)
  • Mbembe, Out of the Dark Night (2020, selections)