Essays in Philosophy of Culture

Essays in Philosophy of Culture

Smuts Memorial Lectures
8 - 11 May 2001

This year's Smuts Memorial Lectures will be given by Professor V Y Mudimbe on four consecutive evenings commencing Tuesday 8 May 2001.

Professor Mudimbe is one of the world's leading Africanist scholars. His interests are in phenomenology and structuralism, with a focus on the logic of mythical narratives and the practice of language. He is perhaps best known for two books - The Invention of Africa (1988), and The Idea of Africa (1994) - which trace the political and intellectual trajectory of concepts of Africa from antiquity to the present day.

'What's a line?', the title of Professor Mudimbe's lectures, refers to the processes of demarcation which he believes lie at the heart of the crisis now facing the social sciences. "We are living in the shadow of the nineteenth century," he argues. The processes of ordering and classifying which the social sciences adopted as their primary method in the Enlightenment and which in turn created the boundaries between its constitutive disciplines were thrown into question during the student revolts of the 1960s.

Like the students of the 'sixties, Professor Mudimbe wants to see a dismantling of the boundaries between academic disciplines. He believes that all social science students should study at least one other subject, a practice which has been adopted at his own university. He praises the interdisciplinary tradition of the Oxbridge college system and cites his own experience as proof of its advantages: "One of the most stimulating conversations I have had at Cambridge was with a mathematician I met at a College dinner," he reveals.

Professor Mudimbe is disturbed by the current trend towards the creation of new academic sub-disciplines such as Black Studies and Gay Studies. His concerns about what he describes as the "new mythologies of difference" which these disciplines promote, reveal his ambivalent attitude to our Enlightenment heritage. Whatever his doubts about the Enlightenment's classificatory project he abhors the post-modern rejection of its core values: "We find contradictions in the dreams of Enlightenment thinkers but at least they were dreaming of the universal values of equality and fraternity," he explains.

Born in 1941 in the former Belgian Congo (subsequently Zaire and Congo), Professor Mudimbe received his Doctorat en Philosophie et Lettre from University of Louvain in 1970, and became Doctor Honoris Causa at the University of Paris VII in 1997. He now holds appointments at Stanford and Duke in the United States, as well as being Chair of the Board of African Philosophy and of the International Africa Institute, SOAS, University of London.

Lecture programme
The lectures run for four days from Tuesday 8 May to Friday 11 May 2001.
All lectures begin at 5.00 pm and the venue for all lectures is Mill Lane Lecture Rooms (room 6), Mill Lane, Cambridge.
The first lecture will be followed by a reception in the Old Library at Pembroke College.

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