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Can a communitarian concept of African personhood be both relational and gender-neutral?

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This paper explores the relationship between the African communitarian conception of personhood and gender. Defenders of this conception of personhood generally hold that an individual is defined in reference to the community, or that personhood is something that is acquired in community. Such characterisations often ignore the role, if any, that gender plays in that conception of personhood. Our aim in this paper is to critically explore the relationship between the two. In doing this we advance a number of claims. First, we point out that the supposed gender-neutrality of the African communitarian idea of personhood is a more general feature of African philosophy that, for instance, evinces a general lack of attention to issues of gender violence and discrimination. Second, we briefly survey the literature on the communitarian idea of personhood in African thought, in particular the views of Ifeanyi Menkiti and Kwasi Wiredu. Our aim is to demonstrate our hypothesis that this idea of personhood is often construed as a gender-neutral concept. Third, we argue that the relational and community-based nature of the communitarian idea of personhood indicates that it is in fact a gendered notion. We conclude that the assumed gender-neutrality is in conflict with the gendered nature of the communitarian idea of personhood. Fourth, we explore a probable objection to our claim that the communitarian idea of personhood is gendered and therefore vulnerable to gender inequality, by examining Ifi Amadiume's position that the notion of gender in traditional African cultures was fluid and indicated complementarity rather than inequality between the sexes. We argue that Amadiume's case is not convincing.

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... As mentioned above, Oyowe and Yurkivska (2014) are among the proponents of the argument that the concept of the human person is gendered. To them, such an understanding is reflected in the works of African philosophers such as Wiredu and Gyekye (1992) who have glossed over social issues as well as structures and institutions which ostensibly oppress women. ...
... To them, such an understanding is reflected in the works of African philosophers such as Wiredu and Gyekye (1992) who have glossed over social issues as well as structures and institutions which ostensibly oppress women. Oyowe and Yurkivska (2014) go on to argue that the absence of gender issues in the works of some African philosophers suggests that either women are embraced in the communitarian word "we" or they are absent. At best when gender issues appear, they do very little in addressing gender inequalities in the African context. ...
... At best when gender issues appear, they do very little in addressing gender inequalities in the African context. Oyowe and Yurkivska (2014) supported their hypothesis by first interrogating the African understanding of personhood proposed by African philosophers who argue that personhood in the African context is relational and egalitarian. They further believe that the overwhelming domination of males in African philosophy has created the lack of concern for gender issues of a philosophical nature. ...
Article
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Discussions on the African communitarian idea of personhood have generated several debates among African philosophers about how it is conceived and perceived. While scholars like Wiredu and Gyekye maintain that personhood is gender-neutral, others such as Oyowe suggest that personhood is gendered. The position that African communitarian personhood is gendered is the basis for the argument in this article. Defenders of this notion argue that the gender-neutral conception of personhood has created situations where gender issues have been glossed over, thereby perpetuating gender inequality in African communities. It is within this context that we take the argument further by interrogating the word umuntu in the popular southern African maxim on personhood, Umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu. We ask the question: if personhood is gendered, then who is umuntu in this aphorism? In an attempt to answer this question, we advance two important claims. First, we claim that umuntu refers to a person whose interest is upheld in the community as well as those who are able to determine their own interest. Second, we also say that this concept of umuntu has perpetuated cultural practices that adversely impact women and girls in most African rural communities. Although some scholars might object to these claims, in this article we will not be addressing those objections, but rather we argue that umuntu is gendered male in the aphorism.
... 9 By the same token, if it were true that African cultures have characteristically been sexist, then it would follow that a rigorously egalitarian moral and political philosophy would be less African than an inegalitarian one. It would not necessarily follow, however, that it would be downright unAfrican (contra Oyowe and Yurkivska 2014). 10 In addition, recall that I seek to balance the Africanness of my ethic with plausibility to twenty-first-century philosophers and related thinkers both in and beyond Africa. ...
... Similarly, a scholar of Shona morality says at one point: 'To become truly human is measured by the acquisition of virtues of character and qualities of personhood that are considered appropriate by the community' (Mungwini 2019: 145; see also Ogbujah 2007: 133-5). Probably most familiar to African philosophers, Ifeanyi Menkiti's (1984) first statement on personhood, i.e., on human excellence or virtue, is often read as saying that developing it is contingent on, if not consists of, one becoming initiated into and supporting the way of life of one's society (e.g., Oyowe 2013; Oyowe and Yurkivska 2014;Manzini 2018). ...
Book
A Relational Moral Theory draws on neglected resources from the Global South and especially the African philosophical tradition to provide a new answer to a perennial philosophical question: what do all morally right actions have in common as distinct from wrong ones? Metz points out that the principles of utility and of respect for autonomy, the two rivals that have dominated western moral theory for the last two centuries, share an individualist premise. Once that common assumption is replaced by a relational perspective given prominence in African ethical thought, a different comprehensive principle, one focused on harmony or friendliness, emerges. Metz argues that this principle corrects the blind spots of the western moral principles, and has implications for a wide array of controversies in applied ethics that an international audience of moral philosophers, professional ethicists, and similar thinkers will find compelling.
... These empirical conditions are generally true, and earnest and consistent efforts to transform our institutions and societies are required. The dispute I raise is philosophical and theoretical in nature -the view that the idea of personhood can and does have resources to capture social egalitarianism (the equal worth of every human being), a view that Oyowe (2013) and Oyowe and Yurkivska (2014) negate. ...
... The standard of what it means to be 'human' in a patriarchal society is being a male. To be a non-male disqualifies one from the human project (Oyowe and Yurkivska, 2014). In this light, one of the reasons we ought to reflect on the place of women in African moral thought is to consider whether it does sponsor the dehumanisation of women in society. ...
Book
Recently, the salient idea of personhood in the tradition of African philosophy has been objected to on various grounds. Two such objections stand out – the book deals with a lot more. The first criticism is that the idea of personhood is patriarchal insofar as it elevates the status of men and marginalises women in society. The second criticism observes that the idea of personhood is characterised by speciesism. The essence of these concerns is that personhood fails to embody a robust moral-political view. African Personhood and Applied Ethics offers a philosophical explication of the ethics of personhood to give reasons why we should take it seriously as an African moral perspective that can contribute to global moral-political issues. The book points to the two facets that constitute the ethics of personhood – an account of (1) moral perfection and (2) dignity. It then draws on the under-explored view of dignity qua the capacity for sympathy inherent in the moral idea of personhood to offer a unified account of selected themes in applied ethics, specifically women, animal and development.
... There is, however, controversy in African literature on whether having communitarian personhood implies the absence of individuality, choice, and rights (Oyowe and Yurkivska 2014). It is beyond the scope of this article to address this debate adequately, suffice it to mention that exponents of communitarian personhood are in agreement that it does not necessarily rule out the exercise of individual choice and creativity as these are perceived to be intrinsic properties of human beings and the foundations of their rights as individuals (Gyekye 1992;Nyamnjoh 2002;Dzobo 1992;Gbadegesin 2004). ...
... Personhood status is conferred by the community collectively and can be failed (Hoekeman 2008). These established scholarly accounts of personhood in African settings have been criticised for overstating its communitarian nature (Gyekye 1992;Kaphagawani 2004) and for downplaying gender as an underlying element of personhood in African contexts (Oyowe and Yurkivska 2014). ...
Article
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Research on men and masculinities in South Africa, and the related intervention programmes, depends largely on theories of gender developed in the Global North. Such theories define masculinity as socially constructed and accomplished relationally in social action. Masculinity does not have an “inner essence.” This article argues that Northern gender theories offer inadequate accounts of African masculinities because of their being embedded in western epistemologies. In order to account fully for the complex lives of African men, scholars need to develop theories of masculinity based on African conceptions of reality. Such theories should treat masculinity as both socially constructed and as being influenced by unseen elements of personhood, as encapsulated in traditional African thoughts. To illustrate these ideas, the author uses anthropological and philosophical literature on African concepts of personhood, together with examples taken from personal experiences and observations.
... These scholars informed a discursive and hegemonic narrative that feminism was born in the West and brought to Africa to liberate African women from oppression. The second wave is that of some modern African scholars who despite the current developments in the women's rights movements, still refute the existence of a feminist philosophy, branding feminist epistemology a foreign import with no relevance except to cause disruption of relations to the African people (Oyowe & Yurkivska, 2014). As a result, African feminist epistemology, an ideology that enhances the struggle for the rights of African women is often excluded from intellectual discourse, IJSSHR, Volume 05 Issue 07 July 2022 www.ijsshr.in ...
Article
The concept and practice of feminism continues to raise multiple contestations on the African continent, despite the varied contributions that feminists and gender advocates have made on the social, economic and political spheres. Feminism and gender continue to be perceived with suspicion, and as foreign importations that destabilise rather than edify the African governance, peace and security discourse. Through a desk review of existing literature, this chapter provided a qualitative exploration of the contested relationship between feminism and the existing patriarchal modes of governance in Africa, what this means for the future of feminism and the WPS agenda, as well as for the future of the governance, peace and security agenda in Africa. Strategically juxtaposing the gains that feminism has brought on the African landscape against the persistent exclusion of women from the key governance and political processes on the continent, the chapter made a case for the multifarious yet imperative role that African women have played to non-violently challenged patriarchal political models and set the standard for possible egalitarian political relations, further highlighting the major barriers to the women's empowerment agenda that are causing the fissures through which the said gains are getting lost. The chapter concluded that despite its achievements and impact socially, economically and politically, the existing contestations in the understanding of feminism and its related theories nd practices is a huge fissure that threatens its future existence on the continent. The analysis further shed hope on the possibility of reconciling this stated contestation by proffering recommendations that African feminists can adopt to continuously refine their strategies to impact on the currently prevailing patriarchal modes of governance, peace and security in order to perpetuate the seemingly lost gains of Beijing.
... The reason is that African society itself is predominantly patriarchal, and the social roles and relationships constitutive of persons inevitably mirror and reproduce these values. According to Oyowe and Yurkivska, "[T]he individual cannot be abstracted from the network of relationships by which s/he is defined, nor can s/he be conceived apart from the community;" thus, the superlative values of person embody objectional patriarchal values and cannot be separated from these values until African society itself is (Oyowe & Yurkivska, 2014). ...
Article
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This paper examines the ethic of respect for dignity within African relational ethics. Following an introduction to African relational ethics (in Section 1), Section 2 introduces two ways of respecting dignity associated with two strands of African communitarianism: strong and moderate. Section 3 tests each version by considering a challenge case involving an oppressive social structure, the Osu caste system in Igboland (Southeastern Nigeria). It argues that both strong and moderate communitarianism are compatible with respecting the dignity of moral dissenters who oppose the Osu caste system. The result is somewhat surprising: while it is generally held that moderate communitarianism is compatible with respecting dignity, it is often thought that strong communitarianism is not. The final section (Section 4) considers and replies to objections. It concludes that an African relational framework lends strong support to respecting dignity in the case of moral dissent.
... 44 Another problem is raised by Oyowe and Yurkivska, who criticize the gender neutrality of the communitarian idea of personhood, arguing that As long as unchecked traditional belief systems continue to enable, sustain and perpetuate gender-blindness and the exclusion of feminist voices, their uncritical acceptance continues to conceal the discrepancy between the theory of African personhood, which is gender-neutral, and the African reality, which is not only explicitly gender-oriented but also genderoppressive. 45 Ujewe calls for replacing the concept of autonomy within institutional ethics frameworks with "ought-onomy," which does not impose "universal" moral values, but rather "aligns the decision-making process to the ethical framework of the relevant society." 46 The debates around notions of personhood and relations of individual and communal further highlight the questionable relevance of western individually-based ethics principles in different cultural contexts. ...
... 18 For a feminist critique of ubuntu communitarianism, see Oyowe and Yurkivska (2014). In their view, the -largely male -ubuntu philosophers, such as Ramose, try to build an African identity on the basis of communal African values in the face of Western philosophy. ...
Article
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This article discusses two complementary themes that play an important role in contemporary South African political philosophy: (1) the racist tradition in Western philosophy; and (2) the role of ubuntu in regaining an authentic African identity, which was systematically suppressed during the colonial past and apartheid. These are also leading themes in Mogobe Ramose’s African Philosophy Through Ubuntu. The first part concentrates on John Locke. It discusses the thesis that the reprehensible racism of many founders of liberal political philosophy has lethally infected liberal theory. This view neglects the distinction between genesis and justification. Political liberalism has since cleansed itself of the prejudices of its spiritual ancestors. Liberal human rights exclude racism as a matter of principle. The second part discusses the claim that the ubuntu philosophy provides a better basis for a constitution in a modern society than political liberalism. A major problem is that ubuntu is an essentially contested concept. Some philosophers consider ubuntu to be a moribund notion (Matolino); others see it as a vital concept par excellence. In the latter case, it is elaborated from sundry incompatible political views, ranging from African nationalism (Ramose) via humanist communitarianism (Metz) to liberalism (Mboti). Conclusion: as an essentially contested ideological concept, ubuntu should not be a decisive constitutional standard for the application of state force. In contrast, the constitutional model of political liberalism provides a reasonable alternative, as it is designed precisely to solve the problem of social plurality and ideological contest.
... 44 Another problem is raised by Oyowe and Yurkivska, who criticise the gender neutrality of the communitarian idea of personhood, arguing that As long as unchecked traditional belief systems continue to enable, sustain and perpetuate gender-blindness and the exclusion of feminist voices, their uncritical acceptance continues to conceal the discrepancy between the theory of African personhood, which is gender-neutral, and the African reality, which is not only explicitly gender-oriented but also gender-oppressive. 45 Ujewe calls for replacing the concept of autonomy within institutional ethics frameworks with 'ought-onomy', which does not impose 'universal' moral values, but rather 'aligns the decision-making process to the ethical framework of the relevant society.' 46 The debates around notions of personhood and relations of individual and communal further highlight the questionable relevance of western individually-based ethics principles in different cultural contexts. ...
Article
This paper reflects on approaches to conducting “ethical research” on architecture and urban (in)equality in cities in the global south. It focuses on two themes: the formalization of institutional ethics procedures and protocols for conducting such research, and the need to move away from ethical frameworks that emerge from western structures for knowledge production. The paper will question whether ethical principles are universal or specific, and how they affect the possibility of knowledge co-production and its potential to generate pathways to urban equality. These questions arise from the history of contemporary research ethics procedures, which are rooted in the social norms of western modernity that views researchers and research participants as “autonomous individuals.” The paper will suggest that exploring the relation of the individual to the collective and understanding social existence as relationality, is fundamental in formulating an alternative type of ethics methodology.
... As two scholars have recently noted, if one's basic aim should be to acquire personhood and if personhood is acquired by conforming to social norms, then, where social norms are gendered, this African ethic allows only a cramped space for difference in respect of gender (Oyowe and Yurkivska 2014). Social norms have in fact been gendered when it comes to education and work in some traditional sub-Saharan cultures (e.g. ...
Chapter
There has been the recurrsent suspicion that community, harmony, cohesion, and similar relational goods as understood in the African ethical tradition threaten to occlude difference. Often, it has been Western defenders of liberty who have raised the concern that these characteristically sub-Saharan values fail to account adequately for individuality, although some contemporary African thinkers have expressed the same concern. In this chapter, I provide a certain understanding of the sub-Saharan value of communal relationship and demonstrate that it entails a substantial allowance for difference. I aim to show that African thinkers need not appeal to, say, characteristically Euro-American values of authenticity or auton- omy to make sense of why individuals should not be pressured to conform to a group’s norms regarding sex and gender. A key illustration involves homosexuality.
... There are obviously issues that call for comment in this, but we will not focus on those issues here. The gendered nature of the communitarian understanding of personhood is investigated inOyowe and Yurkivska 2014. ...
Article
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We notice a number of interesting overlaps between the views on personhood of Ifeanyi Menkiti and Marya Schechtman. Both philosophers distance their views from the individualistic ones standard in western thought and foreground the importance of extrinsic or relational features to personhood. For Menkiti, it is ‘the community which defines the person as person’; for Schechtman, being a person is to have a place in person-space, which involves being seen as a person by others. But there are also striking differences. Schechtman sees this aspect as expanding the scope of personhood to infants and those who are severely mentally disabled. Menkiti thinks that there is a line to be drawn at some point between those humans that are persons and those who are not. We consider the cases offered in questioning how the dispute between the two views should be resolved.
... As relative as this definition is, within the African intellectual space, conversations on the concept of personhood, have taken metaphysical, epistemological and normative dimensions. Diverse works by Hallen (2000a), Metz (2010Metz ( , 2012, Gbadegesin (1998), Gyekye (1992), Wiredu (2005Wiredu ( , 2009), Kaphagawani, (2000), Menkiti (1984), Matolino (2011Matolino ( , 2014, Behrens (2013), Tshivhase (2013), Oyowe and Yurkivska (2014), and Molefe (2017) are instructive on the idea of personhood in African thought. In Western philosophical traditions, the tempo of the debate on the thematic of personhood has gone far beyond the theoretical compass in African philosophy to a discussion of transhumanism. ...
Article
Full-text available
Personhood is an extensively discussed theme in contemporary African philosophy, which has taken metaphysical, epistemological and normative dimensions. In Western philosophical traditions, discourse on personhood is transmuting to debates on transhumanism. Missing in the African philosophical literature is consideration of transhumanism and an explication of the relationship between personhood and transhumanism. In this article, I critically examine the relationship between personhood and transhumanism in an African context. Drawing on Barry Hallen's African metaphysical account of personhood and Thaddeus Metz's Afro-communal normative conception of personhood, I argue that while some transhumanist elements are embedded in African normative and ontological conceptions of personhood, some others are not. In the final analysis, I defend an Afrofuturistic account of personhood that is compatible with some censored essentials of transhumanism in African thoughts.
... So, from the above section, it is clear why, on my interpretation of ubuntu, it would not be an oppressive ethic for women. However, Oyowe and Yurkivska (2014) argue in their article 'Can a Communitarian Concept of African Per- sonhood Be both Relational and Gender-Neutral?' that African commu- nitarianism is in fact oppressive to women. In this section I will analyze their argument and show why I do not think it is successful. ...
Book
This book examines the underexplored notion of epistemic marginalization of women in the African intellectual place. Women’s issues are still very much neglected by governments, corporate bodies and academics in sub-Saharan Africa. The entrenched traditional world-views which privilege men over women make it difficult for the modern day challenges posed by the neglect of the feminine epistemic perspective, to become obvious. Contributors address these issues from both theoretical and practical perspectives, demonstrating what philosophy could do to ameliorate the epistemic marginalization of women, as well as ways in which African philosphy exacerbates this marginalization. Philosophy is supposed to teach us how to lead the good life in all its ramifications; why is it failing in this duty in Africa where the issue of women’s epistemic vision is concerned? The chapters raise feminist agitations to a new level; beginning from the regular campaigns for various women’s rights and reaching a climax in an epistemic struggle in which the knowledge-controlling power to create, acquire, evaluate, regulate and disseminate is proposed as the last frontier of feminism. © 2018 selection and editorial matter, Jonathan O. Chimakonam and Louise du Toit; individual chapters, the contributors.
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This study presents a systematic review of the research into care practices by African authors with a feminist perspective. The research question has been developed through the strategy known as PICo: participants, phenomenon of interest and context. In our case, these are women, feminism and care practices, and sub-Saharan Africa respectively. After the process of filtering 102 selected articles, twenty studies met the inclusion criteria. They were organized into three broad categories using thematic analysis: HIV epidemic; crisis of social reproduction, and Afro-communitarian care. The papers examined explore cultural practices and traditional gender roles as risk or protective factors for contracting HIV; the overload of care work that African women face with regard to the crisis of social reproduction; and the Afro-communitarian proposals in relation to care.
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I argue that Metz's undertaking, in seeking a ‘comprehensive basic norm' to underpin African ethics, is similar to Hans Kelsen's postulation of the Grundnorm in his Pure Theory of Law. But African ethics does not need to be underpinned by an approach such as Kelsen's. In my view, Metz's preference for seeking to develop a Grundnorm rests upon a failure to attend carefully to the distinctness of African ethical thinking from Western ethical thinking. This failure is manifest in a spurious distinction (on which Metz relies) between ‘moral anthropology' / ‘cultural studies' and ‘normative theory'. It is also manifest in Metz's failure to attend carefully to the work of Wiredu and Bujo, both of whom present systematic, critical analyses of African ethical thinking while implicitly rejecting the quest for a Grund norm as being unAfrican. South African Journal of Philosophy Vol. 26 (4) 2007: pp. 347-355
Article
An oral tradition is a transmission of thought over generations by the spoken word and techniques of communication other than writing. Under this definition, such items as poems, lyrics, proverbs, and maxims, of course, qualify as elements of our oral traditions. So too do drum texts and art motifs. But languages do have embedded in their syntax and semantics various notions about reality and human experience. Through these, our habits of speech influence our habits of writing. And so we cannot regard written traditions as altogether independent of orality. I illustrate this point with a brief discussion of the influence of orality in the empiricism of John Locke and in the normative conception of personhood in African philosophy.
Chapter
normative conception;humankind;african traditional societies;african communities;individuals
Shared values and ubuntu', paper presented at the KONTAK on Nation Building conference
  • E N Chikanda
Chikanda, E.N. 1990. 'Shared values and ubuntu', paper presented at the KONTAK on Nation Building conference, Human Sciences Research Council, Pretoria.
The image of man in Africa Person and Community: Ghanaian Philosophical Studies
  • N K Dzobo
Dzobo, N.K. 1992. 'The image of man in Africa', in: Wiredu, K., & Gyekye, K. (eds), Person and Community: Ghanaian Philosophical Studies. Washington, DC: Council for Research in Values and Philosophy, pp. 223–240.
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