Critique of Black Reason

Critique of Black Reason

a John Hope Franklin Center Book

More about this series

Book Pages: 240 Illustrations: Published: March 2017

Author: Achille Mbembe

Translator: Laurent Dubois

African American Studies and Black Diaspora, Postcolonial and Colonial Studies, Sociology > Social Theory

In Critique of Black Reason eminent critic Achille Mbembe offers a capacious genealogy of the category of Blackness—from the Atlantic slave trade to the present—to critically reevaluate history, racism, and the future of humanity. Mbembe teases out the intellectual consequences of the reality that Europe is no longer the world's center of gravity while mapping the relations among colonialism, slavery, and contemporary financial and extractive capital. Tracing the conjunction of Blackness with the biological fiction of race, he theorizes Black reason as the collection of discourses and practices that equated Blackness with the nonhuman in order to uphold forms of oppression. Mbembe powerfully argues that this equation of Blackness with the nonhuman will serve as the template for all new forms of exclusion. With Critique of Black Reason, Mbembe offers nothing less than a map of the world as it has been constituted through colonialism and racial thinking while providing the first glimpses of a more just future. 


"A captivating and simultaneously vexing mixture of historical lecture and political-philosophical manifesto." — Andreas Eckert, Frankfurter Allgemeine

"A very demanding yet incredibly powerful book." — Augsburger Allgemeine

“Achille Mbembe’s Critique de la Raison Nègre . . . [is] a book that you want to shout about from the rooftops, so that all your colleagues and friends will read it. My copy, only a few months old, is stuffed with paper markers at many intervals, suggesting the richness of analysis and description on nearly every page. . . . This is certainly one of the outstanding intellectual contributions to studies of empire, colonialism, racism, and human liberation in the last decade, perhaps decades. . . . A brilliant book.” — Elaine Coburn, Decolonization

"Achille Mbembe is one of the paradoxical optimists who predict the worst without ever losing their faith in the future. . . . Admittedly, slavery has been abolished and colonialism is a thing of the past. But today new forms of alienation have arisen, the Other continues to be stigmatized, and the monster of capitalism reaches for its dream of an limitless horizon. An inevitability? Not necessarily, shoots back this thinker, who invites us to reimagine the geography of the world." — Maria Malagardis, Libération

"A lucid, thoughtful and sometimes poetic work, with phrases you want to underline on every page. Mbembe is a voice that needs to be heard, in the current discussion about racism and immigration in Europe." — Peter Vermaas, NRC Handelsblad

"For me the most important African thinker today, Achille Mbembe has published the Critique of Black Reason. A very great book, encompassing the perspectives of the African continent as well as the political challenges facing the whole world." — Jean-Marie Durand, Les inrockuptibles

"Achille Mbembe has returned with a work that will surely prove provocative: Critique of Black Reason. This nod to Kant’s philosophic classic is, however, devilishly well-chosen since this work speaks to the never-ending tendency to place Europe at the world’s 'center of gravity.' Achille Mbembe . . . fights against established ideas and lazy thinking." — Am Magazine

"[I]ncontrovertible reading on the complex dynamic between race and belonging in twenty-first century societies. Though global in reach, the work is primarily infused with insightful analysis and perspectives on the United States, South Africa, and France, spaces in which the historical legacies of slavery, apartheid, and colonialism remain of pertinence to this day, while also being locations in and from which, the author himself has gained particular familiarity as integral components of his intellectual journey and trajectory. . . . [B]rilliant and pioneering. . . ." — Dominic Thomas, Europe Now

Critique of Black Reason constitutes an important move in bringing together francophone and anglophone postcolonial thought and is a timely demonstration of the re-invigorating potential of both critical thought and translation.” — Hannah Grayson, Postcolonial Text

Critique of Black Reason is an illuminating and brilliant addition to Mbembe’s corpus. It is the kind of book, I suspect, that will become compulsory reading for undergraduate and graduate classes worldwide." — Manosa Nthunya, The African Independent

"An outstanding intellectual contribution to the state of the art of race scholarship. It is a beautifully written work that begs for every sentence to be quoted. . . . Critique of Black Reason is an inescapable and vital work of race scholarship that animates the reader to imagine new radical possibilities for humanity. As such, the book is the must-read for scholars interested in critical race studies, colonial and postcolonial studies." — Mante Vertelyte & Morten Stinus Kristensen, Ethnic and Racial Studies

"We are familiar with the experiences of slavery, colonialism and apartheid, and the historical narrative through which each has unfolded. What Mbembe has done is to tie them all together in a bundle, under the rubric of black reason, that now serves as the genealogy of much of contemporary black experience and the history that has shaped black people’s view of themselves." — Gabriel O. Apata, Theory, Culture & Society

"The book is a must for neoliberal and postmodern theory enthusiasts looking for insights on social constructs and perceptions of race relations. . . . The book is a challenge for the world to shift its thought pattern towards what has been disconnected traditionally as black history, to an incorporated collective human history bearing its roots in black history." — Mary Abura, Journal of Contemporary African Studies

"his most accomplished book to date . . . ." — Adrian Nathan West, boundary 2

"Critique of Black Reason provides important insights into the critical discourse of race and racial matters in the twenty-first century and will be useful for critical race theorists, those who read and write literary and social criticism, and students of political economy concerned with the function of law and ethics and their role in the challenges global political, social, and economic inequalities raise." — Michael Benjamin, Journal of Global South Studies

"Critique of Black Reason is undoubtedly an important text: epistemically as a way to write a history, politically as a critique of the present, ethically as a demand for action, and ontologically as an unveiling of sensibility." — Kharnita Mohamed, Anthropology of Southern Africa

"With characteristic elocution Achille Mbembe in Critique of Black Reason attends to the challenge . . . to write Africa/Blackness in all its manifestations." — Lwazi Lushaba and Ziyana Lategan, South African Historical Journal

"This volume offers a capacious genealogy of the category of Blackness—from the Atlantic enslavement enterprise to the present—to critically reevaluate history, racism, and the future of humanity." — Journal of Pan African Studies

"Besides its philosophical and historical strengths, it is above all the character of a political manifesto that makes Achille Mbembe’s book an essential reading for all those interested in past and present forms of global capitalism. . . . With his complex and profound philosophical analysis of the history of ideas and politics around race, [Critique of Black Reason] sets the ground for a deeper analysis of contemporary forms, flows and actors of global capitalism." — Diana Ayeh, Connections

"With Critique of Black Reason, Achille Mbembe reaffirms his position as one of the most original and significant thinkers of our times working out of Francophone traditions of anti-imperial and postcolonial criticism. His voyages in this book through a painstakingly assembled archive of empire, race, slavery, blackness, and liberation—an archive that Mbembe both reconfigures and interrogates at the same time—produce profound moments of reflection on the origin and nature of modernity and its mutations in the contemporary phase of global capital. A tour de force that will renew debates on capital, race, and freedom in today's world." — Dipesh Chakrabarty

"Achille Mbembe speaks authoritatively for black life, addressing the whole world in an increasingly distinctive tone of voice. This long-anticipated book resounds with the embattled, southern predicament from which its precious shards of wisdom originate. There is nothing provincial about the philosopher’s history it articulates. Mbembe sketches the entangled genealogies of racism and black thought on their worldly travels from the barracoons and the slave ships, through countless insurgencies, into the vexed mechanisms of decolonization and then beyond them, into our own bleak and desperate circumstances." — Paul Gilroy

"Achille Mbembe has placed the discourse of ‘Africa’ squarely in the center of both postmodernism and continental philosophy. Every page of this signifying riff on Kant's Critique of Pure Reason is a delight to read. African philosophy is currently enjoying a renaissance, and Mbembe is to its continental pole what Kwame Anthony Appiah is to its analytical pole. Every student of postmodernist theory should read this book." — Henry Louis Gates, Jr


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Price: $25.95

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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Achille Mbembe is Research Professor in History and Politics at the Wits Institute for Social and Economic Research, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg. He is coeditor of Johannesburg: The Elusive Metropolis, also published by Duke University Press, and the author of On the Postcolony as well as several books in French.

Laurent Dubois is Marcello Lotti Professor of Romance Studies and History and Director of the Forum for Scholars and Publics at Duke University.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Translator's Introduction  ix
Acknowledgments  xvii
Introduction. The Becoming Black of the World  1
1. The Subject of Race  10
2. The Well of Fantasies  38
3. Difference and Self-Determination  78
4. The Little Secret  103
5. Requiem for the Slave  129
6. The Clinic of the Subject  131
Epilogue. There Is Only One World  179
Notes  185
Index 209
Sales/Territorial Rights: World exc Southern Africa

Rights and licensing

Achille Mbembe is the recipient of the 2018 Gerda Henkel Prize.

Additional InformationBack to Top