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African Political Theory and Philosophy of Social Change


Admission requirements

Admission to this course is restricted to:

  • BA students in Philosophy: Global and Comparative Philosophy, who have successfully completed their first year, and also completed at least 10 EC’s of the mandatory components of their second year, including Language of Thought, and Concepts of Selfhood.

  • Pre-master’s students in Philosophy who are in possession of an admission statement, and for whom this course is part of their programme.


The aim of this course is to examine critical issues, debates, and core questions in African Political Theory. It also encompasses two thematic approaches viz.: the classical and modern traditions of African political theories.

The classical approach deals with political thoughts and ideals as expressed and practiced within indigenous African political systems. We will examine the representation of these theories over time and how they continue to influence state formation, nation-building, democratization, and identity formation in contemporary Africa. Taking a leap into African political history, how were these theories become reflective in the sociopolitical and cultural narratives of the time? To what extent were they successful in molding social change and cohesion in these indigenous societies? For example, we will examine how the infusion of the indigenous African political system of thought with Sufism became critical for political cohesion that decisively thwarted slave raiding in some parts of Africa during the Trans-Atlantic Slave trade. Since modern African political theory draws mostly from the indigenous systems of thoughts, we will also examine subthemes like consensus, palaver (politics of anger), communitarianism, and individualism as constitutive of this classical modality of thought.

The second section of the course examines the main trends in modern African political theory. We will explore a diverse range of themes that have emerged as responses to the challenges of state formation, social change, tribalism, and democratic challenges in the newly independent African States.

In discussing both the classical and modern theories of thought, the following questions form our background for reflection: How were these theories framed? What are the emergent epistemic questions as it concerns methodology, contingency, and universalism? Would there be similarities between African and Western political theories? In what ways, one might ask, are these themes and conversations relevant to contemporary African (and non-African) political culture? In what ways have they shaped contemporary African political culture as an epistemic location of rupture, revolt, and refusal? Could these themes be universalized, or are they solely contingent on the African experience?

Course objectives

The aim of this course is to examine critical issues, debates, and core questions in African Political Theory.

Students who successfully complete the course will have a good understanding of:

  • how African political theories shape and continue to impact contemporary African politics, culture, state formation, and social change.

Students who successfully complete the course will be able to:

  • develop critical assessments on crucial questions, issues, and debates on African political theory;

  • make informed evaluations on the relationship, continuities, and discontinuities among different intellectual traditions constitutive of African political theory;

  • seek and develop relationships between African and Western political theories and critically engage with these theories in tandem with those emerging from the Western tradition;

  • learn, improve, and develop critical writing and presentation skills in good academic English;

  • acquire the ability to write and deliver conference papers through learned practice in class.


The timetables are available through MyTimetable.

Mode of instruction

  • Seminars

Assessment method


  • Midterm essay, 800-1200 words (30%)

  • Final essay, 800-1200 words (30%)

  • Presentation (30%)

  • Participation (10%)

Attendance is compulsory for all students. Missing one class is OK (but send me an email), missing two may be possible in exceptional circumstances but, missing three means ‘you are out’ of the course. Preparation for class is as critical as active participation. Non-participation counts as non-attendance for the seminar.

Students are expected to take an active part in the discussions. All are required to read the “core” text for each class. These readings will constitute the basis for the seminar. Supplementary readings will be offered in addition to the core readings of the day. These supplementary readings are for general knowledge and not compulsory.


The final mark for the course is established by determination of the weighted average of several subtests (see above).


The resit consists of the final research paper (60%). The remainder of the course grade will be determined by the other weighted components. The grades for participation and presentations remain in place.
Students who have obtained a satisfactory grade for the first examination cannot take the resit.

Inspection and feedback

How and when an exam review will take place will be disclosed together with the publication of the exam results at the latest. If a student requests a review within 30 days after publication of the exam results, an exam review will have to be organized.

Reading list

  • A full syllabus will be provided via Brightspace.


Enrolment through uSis for this course is not possible. Students are requested to submit their preferences for the third-year electives by means of an online registration form. They will receive the instruction and online registration form by email (uMail account); in June for courses scheduled in semester 1, and in December for courses scheduled in semester 2. Registration in uSis will be taken care of by the Education Administration Office.

Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs

Not applicable.


  • For substantive questions, contact the lecturer listed in the information bar at the right hand side of the page.

  • For questions about enrolment, admission, etc., contact the Education Administration Office Huizinga


Not applicable.