Future Knowledges

Presented by Achille Mbembe

Monday, 29 May, 2017 - 15:00

This paper is a work in progress. Key references, including quotations, are missing. Please do not circulate. The remarks I am about to make are shaped in no small part - but not exclusively - by the turmoil in South African academy over the last two years. The experience of student protests in South Africa has generated difficult but necessary debates about whiteness and the damage resulting from institutionalised racial hierar- chies and violence. It has forced upon us new questions about what counts as knowledge and why. It has also obliged society at large to reflect on whether academic institutions can be turned into spaces of radical hospitality and if so, how, for whom and under what conditions; or whether they are simply sites that replay power relations already existing within society. Moreover, it has brought back to the center the perennial ‘postcolonial dilemmas’ par excellence - What should we do with institutions inherited from a cruel past? Are such institutions ‘reformable’ or should they simply be ‘de-commissioned’ or, for that matter, literally burnt down in the hope that from the ashes, something new will eventually emerge etc…)? (See Njabulo Ndebele, “They are burning memory: 10th Annual Helen Joseph Lecture”, https://njabulondebele.co.za (17 september 2016). At the core of these events is the hope - especially among the younger generation - for something new, which would not simply be a repetition of what we thought we had got rid of (Achille Mbembe, “Difference and repetition: Reflections on South Africa Today”, in Fondation Louis Vuitton, Being There: South Africa, a Contemporary Scene, Paris, Dilecta, 2017). It is this hope that explains the renewed injunction to decolonize institutions, or for that matter, knowledge itself. [...]

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