Tunis Connections: Concatenations and Missed Opportunities, Bond, Fanon, Foucault

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Reflecting on Contested Terrains and Constructed Categories: Contemporary Africa in Focus, a book George Bond and I edited during our work at the Institute of African Studies at Columbia University in the late 1990s, this paper considers the notion of contested terrains, that for George Bond was played out in the scholarship of African studies, in the daily encounters which he had with his colleagues, and in his Zambian research. Bond understood these contestations as continuously operating on and across and often taking place below the surface or at the margins of insititutions. This paper emerged in response to Bond’s invitation to speak about Fanon’s psychiatry writings and Fanon’s critique of sociotherapy on a panel he was organizing at the American Anthropological Association in 2014 (AAA). After he died, the focus shifted to include Bond alongside Fanon and Foucault underscoring the continued need for dialog on the work of three intellectuals—African-American, African Caribbean, and French. The connections and misconnections between Fanon and Foucault is in part the discussion about contested terrains and the willfulness of constructed categories. Indeed, intellectual genealogies, the unknown connections as well as dividing lines was something that interested Bond, the anthrolopologist of the politics of knowledge.

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The decade-long revolution known as May ’68 is commonly framed as a political protest radiating out from European and North American universities. However, much is gained by instead viewing May ’68 within the context of both anticolonial struggle and the emergence of what Wallerstein terms “the world university system.” Understanding student protests within the context of anticolonial struggle, including within African universities, reveals the extent to which the neoliberal university we inhabit today is the product of a profound counterrevolution designed to undermine the promise of the university as a site of radical and anticolonial transformation.
The French revolts of May 1968, the largest general strike in twentieth-century Europe, were among the most famous and colourful episodes of the twentieth century. Julian Bourg argues that during the subsequent decade the revolts led to a remarkable paradigm shift in French thought - the concern for revolution in the 1960s was transformed into a fascination with ethics. Challenging the prevalent view that the 1960s did not have any lasting effect, From Revolution to Ethics demonstrates that intellectuals and activists turned to ethics as the touchstone for understanding interpersonal, institutional, and political dilemmas. In absorbing and scrupulously researched detail Bourg explores the developing ethical fascination as it emerged among student Maoists courting terrorism, anti-psychiatric celebrations of madness, feminists mobilizing against rape, and pundits and philosophers championing human rights. Based on newly accessible archival sources and over fifty interviews with men and women who participated in the events of the era, From Revolution to Ethics provides a compelling picture of how May 1968 helped make ethics a compass for navigating contemporary global experience.
Antiblack racism avows reason is white while emotion, and thus supposedly unreason, is black. Challenging academic adherence to this notion, Lewis R. Gordon offers a portrait of Martinican-turned-Algerian revolutionary psychiatrist and philosopher Frantz Fanon as an exemplar of "living thought" against forms of reason marked by colonialism and racism. Working from his own translations of the original French texts, Gordon critically engages everything in Fanon from dialectics, ethics, existentialism, and humanism to philosophical anthropology, phenomenology, and political theory as well as psychiatry and psychoanalysis. Gordon takes into account scholars from across the Global South to address controversies around Fanon's writings on gender and sexuality as well as political violence and the social underclass. In doing so, he confronts the replication of a colonial and racist geography of reason, allowing theorists from the Global South to emerge as interlocutors alongside northern ones in a move that exemplifies what, Gordon argues, Fanon represented in his plea to establish newer and healthier human relationships beyond colonial paradigms.
The name of Frantz Fanon has become a symbol of anticolonial militancy and the struggles of national emancipation against colonial rule. However, Fanon was also a psychiatrist, who never abandoned clinical practice even after resigning from his post in colonized Algeria in 1956. The coexistence, in Fanon, of medicine and political involvement represents one of the most productive and contradictory aspects of his life and work. Fanon was highly critical of colonial ethnopsychiatry, but never abandoned his commitment to improving the condition of psychiatric patients. After his escape from Algeria, he wrote extensively for El Moudjahid, the journal of the anticolonial resistance, but also practised in the hospital of Charles Nicolle in Tunis. In this essay I propose a new assessment of the relation between psychiatry and politics by addressing Fanon's influence on Franco Basaglia, leader of the anti-institutional movement in Italian psychiatry in the 1960s and 1970s. Basaglia was deeply inspired by the example of Fanon and the contradictions he had to confront. Rereading Fanon through the mirror of Italian anti-institutional psychiatry will define a new understanding of Fanon as committed intellectual. Indeed, this may suggest a new perspective on the function of intellectuals in contexts signed by the aftermath of colonial history, drawing on the example of two psychiatrists who never ceased to inhabit the borderline between the clinical and the critical, medicine and militancy, the necessity of cure and the exigency of freedom. Keywords: anticolonialism, Basaglia, Franco, Fanon, Frantz, history of psychiatry, intellectual commitment
This paper unearths the relation between French philosopher Michel Foucault and the US Black Panther Party (BPP). I argue that Foucault’s shift from archaeological inquiry to genealogical critique is fundamentally motivated by his encounter with American-style racism and class struggle, and by his engagement with the political philosophies and documented struggles of the BPP. The paper proceeds in four steps. First, I assess Foucault’s biographies and interviews from the transitional period of 1970–72 that indicate the fact and nature of this formative encounter. Second, I turn to some of the writings of BPP leaders and to the theme of politics and war as they articulated it. Third, I address this same theme of politics as war as it gets taken up and rearticulated by Foucault between 1971 and 1976, with an eye to the degree to which the philosophies and struggles of the Black Panthers silently, yet profoundly, inform Foucault’s genealogical work. I conclude by raising some ethical and political questions pertaining to the criteria of truthful speech in scholarly discourse.
This essay explores the relation of authority to legitimacy through the social construction of local histories that validate claims to 'authentic' rulership. Using the historical example of the Chiefdom of Uyombe in northern Zambia, I intend to argue that the construction of these local histories has been a crucial element in the process of domination, subjugation, resistance and collaboration between rulers and those they would rule. Exploring specific Gramscian concepts, I will also argue that historical narratives contain hegemonic and ideological components that are critical to relating authority to legitimacy in an active manner. These narratives contain African voices, which express varied local interests. Through the narratives, Africans may be seen as active agents in contributing to the making of their own local histories of rulership. Thus, authority and legitimacy are conjoined through the fabrication, inscription and recitation of historical narratives and are an essential part of governance.
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