|Alma mater||Sorbonne, Instituts d'études politiques|
|Fields||Philosophy, political science|
|Institutions||University of the Witwatersrand, Duke University|
|Influences||Frantz Fanon, Michel Foucault|
Mbembe was born near Otélé in French Cameroons in 1957. He obtained his Ph.D. in history at the University of Sorbonne in Paris, France, in 1989. He subsequently obtained a D.E.A. in political science at the Instituts d'études politiques in the same city. He has held appointments at Columbia University in New York, Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C., University of Pennsylvania, University of California, Berkeley, Yale University, Duke University and Council for the Development of Social Science Research in Africa (CODESRIA) in Dakar, Senegal. He was assistant professor of history at Columbia University, New York, from 1988-1991, a senior research fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C., from 1991 to 1992, associate professor of history at the University of Pennsylvania from 1992 to 1996, executive director of the Council for the Development of Social Science Research in Africa (Codesria) in Dakar, Senegal, from 1996 to 2000. Achille was also a visiting professor at the University of California, Berkeley, in 2001, and a visiting professor at Yale University in 2003. He was a research professor in history and politics at Harvard University's W. E. B. Dubois Research Institute.
He has written extensively in African history and politics, including La naissance du maquis dans le Sud-Cameroun (Paris: Karthala, 1996).On the Postcolony was published in Paris in 2000 in French and the English translation was published by the University of California Press, Berkeley, in 2001. In 2015, Wits University Press published a new, African edition. He has an A1 rating from the National Research Foundation.
Mbembe is currently a member of the staff at the Wits Institute for Social and Economic Research (WISER) at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa, and also has an annual visiting appointment at the Franklin Humanities Institute at Duke University.
His main research topics are African history, Postcolonial Studies and politics and social science. Although he is called a postcolonial theorist, namely due to the title of his first English book, he has thoroughly rejected this label more recently, because he sees his project as one of both acceptance and transcendence of difference, rather than of return to an original, marginal, non-metropolitan homeland.
Mbembe's most important works are: Les jeunes et l'ordre politique en Afrique noire (1985);La naissance du maquis dans le Sud-Cameroun (1920-1960);Histoire des usages de la raison en colonie (1996);De la postcolonie. Essai sur l'imagination politique dans l'Afrique contemporaine (On the Postcolony) (2000);Sortir de la grande nuit: Essai sur l'Afrique décolonisée (2003);Critique de la raison nègre (2013).
His central work, On the Postcolony, was translated into English and released by University of California Press in 2001. This work has also been republished in an African edition by Wits University Press, and contains a new preface by Achille Mbembe. In this text Mbembe argues that academic and popular discourse on Africa is caught within a variety of cliches tied to Western fantasies and fears. Following Frantz Fanon and Sigmund Freud, Mbembe holds that this depiction is not a reflection of a real Africa but an unconscious projection tied to guilt, disavowal, and the compulsion to repeat. Like James Ferguson, V.Y. Mudimbe, and others, Mbembe interprets Africa not as a defined, isolated place but as a fraught relation between itself and the rest of the world which plays out simultaneously on political, psychic, semiotic, and sexual levels.
Mbembe claims that Michel Foucault's concept of biopower - as an assemblage of disciplinary power and biopolitics - is no longer sufficient to explain these contemporary forms of subjugation. To the insights of Foucault regarding the notions of sovereign power and biopower, Mbembe adds the concept of necropolitics, which goes beyond merely "inscribing bodies within disciplinary apparatuses". Discussing the examples of Palestine, Africa, and Kosovo, Mbembe shows how the power of sovereignty now becomes enacted through the creation of zones of death where death becomes the ultimate exercise of domination and the primary form of resistance.
Achille Mbembe is married to Sarah Nuttall, who is Professor of Literary and Cultural Studies and Director of the Wits Institute for Social and Economic Research at the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg. They have written several texts together and have two children.