‘Theory in Times of Pandemic?’ by Achille Mbembe | London Critical Theory Summer School 2021

What is the task of theory in a time of pandemic? How can it be made accountable to the hour? Which theorists and concepts might be said to have already held it to account in their own thought? Whose pleas for life are heeded and whose not? Under what conditions do profoundly broken people start to yell?

In this lecture Mbembe examined the question of breathability as explored in the writings and clinical practice of Frantz Fanon and its resonance for racial violence in a time of pandemic, given its most striking instance in the police killing of Georg Floyd. The classes explored how unevenness in the capacity to breathe has marked inequality over time, how breathing offers a model for vitality and social transformation and how the Fanonian body, at once reified and vulnerable, is marked by these concerns.

This is a recording from 6th July 2021. Run by the Birkbeck Institute for the Humanities, the internationally renowned London Critical Theory Summer School enables graduate students and academics to engage in a two-week course of study with acclaimed critical thinkers.

Joseph-Achille Mbembe, known as Achille Mbembe, is a Cameroonian historian, political theorist, and public intellectual who is a research professor in history and politics at the Wits Institute for Social and Economy Research at the University of the Witwatersrand.


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