Racialisation and Publicness in Africa and the African Diaspora

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This University of Oxford conference will address the contemporary problem of racialisation in Africa and the African Diaspora (old and new).
Keynore speakers
  • Professor Achille Mbembe, WISER, University of Witwatersrand, South Africa, author of Critique of Black Reason
  • Professor Faye V. Harrison, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, USA, author of Decolonizing Anthropology

Conference is supported by: The Rhodes Chair in Race Relations, African Studies Centre, St Antony’s College, Africa Oxford Initiative (AfOx), and The Oxford Research Centre in the Humanities (TORCH).

Convenor: Wale Adebanwi, Rhodes Professor of Race Relations, African Studies Centre, Oxford School of Global and Area Studies, University of Oxford, UK.

From the fatal shooting of the 17-year old Trayvon Martin in Florida, United States, and the recent deportation threats faced by the Windrush generation in Britain to the continued practices of dehumanisation experienced by black Africans in Mauritania and contemporary resistance to Empire and its devastating consequences as symbolised by the #RhodesMustFall movement in South Africa and Oxford, racialisation of black people in Africa and in the Diaspora and the attendant (counter-) hegemonic reactions and/or resistance to racialisation have transplanted the DuBoisian twentieth- century problem into that of the twenty-first century.

Against this backdrop, this conference will address the contemporary problem of racialisation in Africa and the African Diaspora (old and new). The conference will examine how to approach and analyse racial phenomena in terms of the processes by which ideas about race are constructed, given meaning, and acted upon (Murji and Solomons 2005) in public life and how people of African descent are racialised as the Other, and so become, ‘objects of knowledge, power, and cultural criticism’ (Gilroy 1993: 5).

The conference will examine why and how racial identities and categories are constructed, imagined and inscribed (in)to the social, political and economic processes, practices and relationships in Africa and the African Diaspora—with significant consequences and implications for human life as well as for what Achille Mbembe describes in Critique of Black Reason (2017) as the global ‘in-common.’

The conference will examine how groups, relationships, encounters, institutions, social processes, thought, etc. are racialised in continental Africa and in the Black Diaspora, including how these processes of racialisation are both enacted or performed in public and public-ised. The conference will focus on how racialisation is (re)configured, (re)determined and transformed by publicness. Defined by Cheah (1995) as one of the ‘redemptive ideas of modernity’, publicness has become critical in conceiving of and understanding racialisation in modern terms. In the light of this, the conference will explore the ways in which publicness—in its manifold manifestations—problematises and/or complexifies ‘the self-evident link between critical agency and autonomy’ in Africa and the African Diaspora. In seeking to explore, in their multivocality and intersectionality, the local, global and transnational experiences of racialisation in global Africa, we will examine how the idea of publicness can be mobilised as ‘the normative function of mediating between the universal and the particular’ (ibid) in the experiences of people of African descent in the longue durée.


The organisers will be happy to provide official letters of invitation to assist participants in securing visas to the UK.

There is no conference registration fee.

For conference enquiries, please contact Conference Administrator, Alexa Virdi: events@africa.ox.ac.uk.

Register via the Eventbrite page.

Please see below for the event programme:

International Engagement
TORCH Global South Visiting Professors and Fellows
Humanities & Identities
Race and Resistance across Borders in the Long Twentieth Century

Contact email: events@africa.ox.ac.uk
Audience: Open to all