What We Talked About At ISA: Critique in Anti-Colonial Thought: Fanon and Cabral as Philosophers of Being, knowledge and ethics

I saw folk die of hunger in Cape Verde and I saw folk die from flogging in Guiné (with beatings, kicks, forced labour), you understand? This is the entire reason for my revolt.”.[1]




I sincerely believe that a subjective experience can be understood by others; and it would give me no pleasure to announce that the black problem is my problem and mine alone and that it is up to me to study it…Physically and affectively. I have not wished to be objective. Besides, that would be dishonest: It is not possible for me to be objective.”.[2]

For some time, I have been preoccupied by the connections between the ways in which we see, analyse and interpret the world, and the forms of political action to which this gives rise. In general, for critical social theory, the challenge is how to think about the world such as to understand and overcome structures of injustice or violence in it.  As a particular instance of this, the anti-colonial movement of the middle part of the twentieth century provides much food for thought, not least when so many point to patterns of colonialism and imperialism in world politics today.

In the paper I presented to the International Studies Association conference a few weeks ago, I offer a particular reading of Frantz Fanon and Amílcar Cabral as philosophers of being, knowledge and ethics.  Commonly, but not exclusively, these two figures are understood as having important things to say about revolt and resistance – Cabral is portrayed as the arch-pragmatist who emphasises the need for political unity and realistic objectives, whereas Fanon is frequently engaged for his affirmative treatment of violence in an anti-colonial context.  In this sense, they are largely approached as political thinkers and activists rather than philosophers per se.

Yet, their systems of thought stem from distinctive, and in important ways shared, philosophical commitments on the nature of being (ontology), ways of constructing knowledge (epistemology) and the ethical foundations of engagement (um, ethics). These foundations are strong, coherent and compelling points of departure and important in terms of understanding what kind of future order they envisaged.  What are these, and how do they support an anti-colonial political programme? What is the relevance of this intellectual legacy today? Continue reading