This book examines the relationship between Ubuntu and the idea of personhood. Ubuntu in its broadest sense is rooted in the belief that the full development of personhood comes with shared identity and the idea that an individual’s humanity is fostered in a network of relationships: I am because you are; we are because you are. The chapters in this book seek to interrogate this relational quality of personhood embodied in Ubuntu. The book further seeks to examine whether we can talk about relational personhood without running the risk of essentialism. It argues that no human society is possible without a network of relations, which involves, among other elements, communication and interaction between individuals. It is a critical engagement with how Ubuntu shapes those ethical values of connectedness and interdependence within society. The book also asks whether we can find relevance in Ubuntu as an ethical value system, which is likely to mediate our daily activities and the social institutions, which serve communities in post-colonial societies.
Further, the book grapples with many questions: Can Ubuntu’s idea of human inter-dependence complement the “European” idea of freedom of the individual, thus lead to a hybridised ethical foundation for a future society? Does Ubuntu share any similarities with other intellectual and philosophical streams from the African continent such as Nyerere’s Ujamaa? If our own idioms and concepts of personhood come with moral entitlements, as they must, how are we to evaluate the conduct of persons whose identity is constructed differently? Finally, how are we to understand agency in a context in which relational quality of personhood is granted alongside individual autonomy?
“Ubuntu and Personhood, Professor James Ogude’s edited collection of essays, achieves three critical objectives among others. Firstly, the work defines Ubuntu from an exceptionally wide and diverse array of angles, using debate and inventive analysis to squeeze every drop of meaning out of the concept. Secondly, the collection demonstrates Ubuntu’s relevance and applicability to various academic disciplines, including philosophy; religion; literature; orature-inspired compositions; history; political science and nursing. Thirdly and most importantly, by discussing Ubuntu on its own terms – as an African-rooted example of indigenous knowledges, yet one that has universal impact – the book affirms the African continent as a site of knowledge, a fact ignored by colonizing and dominating cultures even up to this day. Through this bold effort, mainly by a younger generation of African scholars, Ogude and his contributors have succeeded in creatively transgressing colonial and neo-colonial imposed academic borders. I have often argued that if we as African scholars are to be taken seriously, we need to bring home-bred theories to international conference tables instead of regurgitating what we learnt from colonial and neo-colonial classrooms. This work certainly belongs to a much-needed tradition of resistant and original, self-defining scholarship.”
—Mĩcere Gĩthae Mũgo, Ph.D.Emeritus Professor of Teaching Excellence Department of African American Studies Syracuse University
“Ubuntu and Personhood brings together some of the most incisive thinkers on the question of African being. It will be an essential primer for readers interested in debates on the status of the person in Africa and the role of metaphysics and morals in the imagination of selfhood, communitarian identity, moral leadership, and the ethics of care.”
—Simon Gikandi, Robert Schirmer Professor of English, Princeton University.
JAMES OGUDE is a Research Fellow and Director at the Centre for the Advancement of Scholarship, University of Pretoria. He has served as a Professor of African Literature and Cultures in the School of Literature and Language Studies at the University of the Witwatersrand. He is the author of Ngugi’s Novels and African History: Narrating the Nation. He has edited five books and one anthology of African stories. His most recent book is Chinua Achebe’s Legacy: Illuminations from Africa (2015).