Emeritus Professor in Humanities, Rhodes University, South Africa; Distinguished Visiting Scholar University of Connecticut Humanities Institute, United States; Visiting Professor, WISER, University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa.

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  • The Dialectic of Emancipation in Africa: political theory and political practice

    But isn’t this at last, Glaucon, the song that dialectic sings? [Plato, The Republic 532]

    This book condenses the theory and extends into new empirical domains the core arguments of my treatise on political theory Thinking Freedom in Africa: toward a theory of emancipatory politicswhich was awarded the Frantz Fanon Prize in 2017.  It proposes to focus on the dialectic as the core subjective feature of all emancipatory political experiments on the African continent. It traces dialectical thinking to its origins in Ancient Egypt and notes its systematic opposition to the idea of representation in politics in various historical sequences right up to the present in the thought of emancipatory struggles.  Starting from the fundamental conception that all people are capable of thought, namely that anyone can think beyond interests and identities, the argument traces a number of historical political sequences most notably the Haitian Revolution (undertaken by slaves born in Africa), the emancipatory thinking of the National Liberation Struggles of the 1960s and the mass popular struggles in South Africa during the 1980s which themselves presaged the popular upsurge in North Africa in 2011.  The core of the dialectic in each case differs but always combines a thought of the particular with one of universal humanity.  The text also elaborates a theory of neo-colonial state politics through unpacking the core statist idea of representation.  Differing modes of state rule are identified and the formation of particularistic social movements explained, particularly in the case of South Africa.  Resistance to state modes of rule are analysed in order to elucidate the features and limits of the subjective political domains structured by these modes of rule. In this manner both the dialectic of emancipation and the character of state power are thought conjointly and dialectical thinking is opposed to the idea of representation in politics as well as in social science.  The concepts and categories used are explained in a simple manner understandable by all.

    Market:activists, academics, students and trade unionists.

    Table of Contents


    1. Introduction: people think – recovering the dialectic in thought
    2. The expressive-excessive dialectic and historical political sequences
    3. From Saint Domingue to Haiti: the thought of universal humanity and its subjective limits
    4. National Liberation Struggles: universalism, statism and party representation
    5. South Africa: from ‘people’s power’ to national chauvinism
    6. Representation as anti-dialectic: parties, civil society, NGOs, social movements
    7. The Neo-colonial State: Modes of Rule and Popular Struggles
    8. Conclusions: dialectics vs representation and the future of emancipation