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Theory & Event

UHURU is concerned with re-thinking emancipatory politics for the 21st century. The reasons are complex but central to these is the contemporary absence of a thought of the emancipation of universal humanity, in other words a thought of the universal which is not tainted by the exclusionary features of liberalism. Emancipation is for the whole of humanity and not only for some. It is universal or nothing. Much of what is being discussed today in South Africa concerns either the false universality of liberalism or the particularism of identity politics. Whereas Western liberalism has been tainted (many would say irrevocably) by colonialism and racism as its idea of freedom only applies to the ‘chosen few’, identity politics is by definition not universal. Although emancipatory struggles are always located in the particular, their thinking cannot remain at that level if they are to be emancipatory. This workshop will attempt therefore to elucidate how the universal has been thought in the past, and how it may be rethought for the present and the future. Given the singular location of all thought of freedom, the Theory and Event workshop will locate the thought of thinkers of the universal in the popular struggles within which they were situated, or which they attempted to understand. We hope in this way to reconnect the thought of emancipation to the struggles of people themselves. In all our discussions we will have to keep the following questions foremost: do the singular struggles with which people are confronted help us to think a concept of universal humanity? Are the thinkers we are considering enabling us to think such a universal and, if so, how?

The Theory & Event workshop, which will be held in the Humanities Seminar room every Tuesday from 3:00 – 4:30, is open to all. It offers graduate students, staff and visitors an opportunity to participate in a structured discussion on emancipatory thought and action in the modern world. The set of topics is not comprehensive, and thinkers and events that have already been widely discussed in post-graduate courses, the UHURU reading group etc – like Frantz Fanon, Lewis Gordon, Mahmood Mamdani, Achille Mbembe, Gayatri Spivak etc – are not repeated here. Also some major emancipatory events are not dealt with e.g. the Spartacus uprising in Rome, the 16thc Peasant War in Germany, the Mexican Revolution of 1910 and many others. Readings (divided into core and supplementary readings) will be circulated a week before each meeting. All participants will be expected to have read at least the core readings.

Term One (5 weeks):

1. Introduction: Slavery in Africa & The Mande Charter of 122. The required redings can be found here: 

2. The French Revolution of 1789: Robespierre, Saint-Just, Olympe de Gouges. 

3. The Haitian Revolution of 1791- 1804: Toussaint Louverture. 
  • Some excerpts from Toussaint Louverture’s writings and speeches where he emphasises universal humanity based on a notion of natural right: Toussaint and Haiti

  • A chapter from Carolyn Fick’s brilliant book: The Making of Haiti: the Saint Domingue Revolution from below. This raises a number of issues concerning the control of dissident leaders, the equating of freedom by Toussaint with legal freedom and the ex-slaves’ insistence on achieving economic independence and the abolition of the plantation system: Fick on Haiti

  •  A chapter from Nick Nesbitt’s book Universal Emancipation, which tries to elicit a philosophy of the revolution more especially the notion of ‘political autonomy’:Nesbitt on Haiti

4. The European working-class movements of 1848: Karl Marx.

5. The Paris Commune of 1871: Karl Marx.


Term Two (8 weeks):
6. The United States after slavery: W.E.B Du Bois (1903):
7. Thinking about sexual violence in South Africa:
8. The Russian Revolutions of 1905 and 1917: V.I. Lenin: 
9. People’s war and the Chinese revolution 1920s-1949: Mao Zedong
  • On the Correct Handling of Contradictions Among the People (February 27, 1957): https://www.marxists.org/reference/archive/mao/selected-works/volume-5/mswv5_58.htm
  • The People’s Republic of China: a documentary history of revolutionary change
10. The Turin Strikes of 1918 & 1919: Antonio Gramsci
11. Struggles within the anti-colonial movement in India B. R. Ambedkar, Mohandas Gandhi
12. Post-war feminism in France: Simone de Beauvoir (1949) 
13. Thinking anti-colonialism in France: Jean-Paul Sartre
Term Three (6 weeks):
14. Rethinking pedagogy in Latin America: Paulo Freire (1968)
15. Thinking national liberation struggle 1963-1974: Amilcar Cabral
16. The 1960s in the United States and rethinking racism: Malcom X
17. The 1970s in the United States: Angela Davis
18. Rethinking feminism in the United States: Bell Hooks
19. The 1967 Naxalbari uprising in India: Ranajit Guha
Term Four (7 weeks):
20. Rethinking feminism & the commons after structural adjustment in the 1980s: Silvia Federici
21. Thinking new urban struggles in Latin America in the 21st c: Raul Zibechi
22. May 1968 and ‘post-classism’: Sylvain Lazarus
23. After 1968, rethinking democracy: Jacques Rancière and Kristin Ross
24. 1968, the ‘immanent exception’ and the subject of truth: Alain Badiou
25. Rethinking the anti-apartheid struggle in the 1970s & 1980s
26. Conclusion: Rethinking emancipation in contemporary Africa: Michael Neocosmos

Last Modified: Mon, 09 May 2016 10:13:58 SAST