On the Postcolony

On the Postcolony

On the Postcolony

On the Postcolony


Achille Mbembe is one of the most brilliant theorists of postcolonial studies writing today. In "On the Postcolony he profoundly renews our understanding of power and subjectivity in Africa. In a series of provocative essays, Mbembe contests diehard Africanist and nativist perspectives as well as some of the key assumptions of postcolonial theory.

This thought-provoking and groundbreaking collection of essays--his first book to be published in English--develops and extends debates first ignited by his well-known 1992 article "Provisional Notes on the Postcolony," in which he developed his notion of the "banality of power" in contemporary Africa. Mbembe reinterprets the meanings of death, utopia, and the divine libido as part of the new theoretical perspectives he offers on the constitution of power. He works with the complex registers of bodily subjectivity -- violence, wonder, and laughter -- to profoundly contest categories of oppression and resistance, autonomy and subjection, and state andcivil society that marked the social theory of the late twentieth century.

This provocative book will surely attract attention with its signal contribution to the rich interdisciplinary arena of scholarship on colonial and postcolonial discourse, history, anthropology, philosophy, political science, psychoanalysis, and literary criticism.


This chapter has two aims. One is to reflect broadly on the types of rationality used to rule men and ensure the provision of goods and things in sub-Saharan Africa since the end of direct colonization. the second is to ask questions about the circumstances in which the activity of “regulating human behaviour in a state framework and with state instruments” (in other words, the activity of governing) has recently fallen from the hands of those supposed to be exercising it, paving the way not for some sort of revolution but for a situation of extreme material scarcity, uncertainty, and inertia.

With regard to the activity of governing, two factors spring to mind. the first is that dealing with human behavior and how it is regulated in a state framework and with state instruments means not simply to look at what constitutes the strength and reason of the state, but also to ask questions about the actual forms of power, its manifestations, and the various techniques that it uses to enhance its value, distribute the product of labor, and either ensure abundance or manage poverty and scarcity. and since, in Africa both before and after colonization, state power enhanced its value by establishing specific relations of subjection, something must be said about the relationships between subjection, the distribution of wealth and tribute, and the more general problem of the constitution of the postcolonial subject. the second factor is that postcolonial African regimes have not invented what they know of government from scratch. Their knowledge is the product of several cultures . . .

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