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‘Provisional notes on the postcolony’ in Congo studies: an overview of themes and debates

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  21 January 2022

Katrien Pype*
KU Leuven, Leuven, Belgium


This article considers the uptake of Achille Mbembe’s article ‘Provisional notes on the postcolony’ (1992), the book De la Postcolonie: essai sur l’imagination politique dans l’Afrique contemporain (2000) and its translated version, On the Postcolony (2001), in Congo studies. ‘Congo’ here is a shorthand for the current Democratic Republic of Congo, formerly known as Zaire. The article is concerned with the ways in which these two English-language texts (and their original French versions) figure in the social sciences and the humanities, specifically in the field of study relating to Zairian/Congolese society and culture. It becomes clear that the theme of mutual entanglements of commandement (power) and citizens not only influences political studies but also structures Congo scholarship on economy and governance, popular culture and erotics. The article ends with some reflections on academic writing about Congo, the limited uptake of ‘Provisional notes’ and On the Postcolony in religious studies, questions about ethics and scientific writing about political postcolonial cultures, and especially the necessity to historicize the postcolony.



Cet article s’intéresse à l’utilisation faite de l’article d’Achille Mbembe « Notes provisoires sur la postcolonie » (1992), de son ouvrage De la postcolonie. Essai sur l’imagination politique dans l’Afrique contemporaine (2000) et de sa version traduite, On the Postcolony (2001), dans les études sur le Congo. Le terme Congo est ici l’abréviation de l’actuelle république démocratique du Congo, ex-Zaïre. Cet article traite de la manière dont les deux textes de langue anglaise (et leurs versions françaises d’origine) figurent en sciences sociales et en lettres et sciences humaines, en particulier dans le domaine d’étude concernant la société et la culture zaïroises/congolaises. Il apparait clairement que le thème des intrications mutuelles du commandement (pouvoir) et des citoyens non seulement influence les études politiques, mais aussi structure la recherche sur l’économie et la gouvernance, la culture populaire et l’érotique au Congo. L’article conclut par des réflexions sur les travaux universitaires sur le Congo, l’utilisation limitée des « Notes provisoires » et de l’ouvrage On the Postcolony dans les études religieuses, des questions sur l’éthique et les travaux scientifiques concernant les cultures postcoloniales politiques, et en particulier la nécessité d’historiser la postcolonie.

Rethinking Achille Mbembe’s ‘Provisional notes on the postcolony’
© The Author(s), 2022. Published by Cambridge University Press

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