“VY Mudimbe: from the ‘Nation’ to the ‘Global’ – ‘Who is the Master?' ”


  • This article is a reworked and expanded version of an earlier paper delivered in French (and entitled “V.Y. Mudimbe in Partibus”) in September 2010 at the University of Lubumbashi (DRC). I am very grateful to the British Academy for an Overseas Conference Grant, which enabled me to attend the conference.


This article examines Valentin Yves Mudimbe's work form the early 1970s, in the neo-colonial era, to the present day, a period marked by the advent of “Empire”, as conceived by Michael Hardt and Toni Negri. The investigation appraises the way in which Mudimbe's epistemological excavation of African discourses and discourses about Africa serves wider ethical and political objectives resonating with critiques of anthropology as formulated by Benoît Verhaegen and Johannes Fabian in the 1960s and 1970s. Part I focuses on Zairian nationalism (“Zairianization”) and the ambition, on the part of the Mobutu regime, to develop an authentic national culture. This examination of the birth of a Zairian “community” is developed through a comparison between Mudimbe's little-studied Autour de la “nation” (1972) and Kangafu Kutumbagana's Discours sur l'authenticité (1973) and is argued on the basis of a number of propositions formulated by Jean-Luc Nancy in The Inoperative Community (1991). The second part of the article focuses on Mudimbe's On African Fault Lines (2013); it examines Mudimbe's attempts, in his analyses of contemporary works by Deepa Rajkumar and Geert Hofstede, to reflect on globalization and to assess the political and ethical relevance of critical tools developed in the neo-colonial period to denounce the unequal basis of anthropology.