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Law and the Public Sphere in Africa

La Palabre and Other Writings

Translated and edited by Laura Hengehold. Jean Godefroy Bidima

Publication Year: 2013

Jean Godefroy Bidima’s La Palabre examines the traditional African institution of palaver as a way to create dialogue and open exchange in an effort to resolve conflict and promote democracy. In the wake of South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commissions and the gacaca courts in Rwanda, Bidima offers a compelling model of how to develop an African public space where dialogue can combat misunderstanding. This volume, which includes other essays on legal processes, cultural diversity, memory, and the internet in Africa, offers English-speaking readers the opportunity to become acquainted with a highly original and important postcolonial thinker.

Published by: Indiana University Press

Series: World Philosophies

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. 2-7

Table of Contents

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pp. vii-viii


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pp. ix-xii

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pp. xiii-xiv

When The Economist, on the cover of its 13 May 2000 issue, labeled Africa “The Hopeless Continent,” the magazine was certainly not betting on the seeds of change that had been appearing since the early 1990s on that continent, in spite of the wars and their attendant woes. When, a decade later, on the cover of its 3 December issue, the same magazine saluted a “Rising Africa,” those seeds had started to produce...

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Preface to the English Edition: Justice, Deliberation, and the Democratic Public Sphere: Palabre and its Variations

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pp. xv-xil

We never enter a house without crossing a space called the “threshold” and without “bearing tales” about ourselves or others that reveal how we are connected to them and to the world around us. If we may indulge in an association and a comparison, every book has an immediate threshold—such as the preface, the foreword, the introduction, or the note to readers; and also a distant threshold, which is the universe of tales, ambitions...

Translator’s Acknowledgments

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pp. xl-xlii

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Introduction: Speech, Belief, Power

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pp. 1-12

What is this elementary but problematic social bond, “living-together”? How can it give authority to the law so that people find courts and legislatures trustworthy—even when their personal interests may be threatened—if not, as Burke warned, through tradition? When living-together becomes an elementary...

La Palabre: The Legal Authority of Speech

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pp. 15-16

Paradoxically, while African political and intellectual elites tend to scorn palabre and prefer a superficial legalism directly borrowed from the West, Western countries and Japanese businesses resort to palabre whenever a conflict requires settlement or a law requires interpretation.1 The very people who overemphasized law are returning to practices of informal mediation, while those who spontaneously practiced the...

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1. The Public Space of Palabre

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pp. 17-29

What is Palabre? Not just an exchange of words, but also a social drama, a procedure, and a series of human interactions. Palabre is therefore an act of staging [mise en scène], ordering, and putting into speech...

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2. A Political Paradigm

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pp. 30-35

If conflict cannot be eliminated, how can we live together with it? How should we contemplate a form of consensus that does not revert to the demand for unanimity found in so many totalitarian regimes? How to make consensus and pluralism cohabit in a single public space? As an uninterrupted dialogue, Palabre embodies dissensus in a peaceful social space. It establishes the limits between the tolerable and intolerable, allowing one to evaluate and strengthen the connections between them...

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3. Convergent Suspicions

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pp. 36-50

Palabre exorcises, channels, and sometimes authorizes the use of social violence. Its function is to stage public confrontation, a spectacle in which the self grapples with its other. And yet, there are institutions in Africa competing equally with palabre in the project of reducing alterity. These include traditional powers, colonization, singleparties, and the false pluralism of present-day regimes...

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4. A Difficult Place in Political Thought

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pp. 51-69

The comprehension of political mechanisms in Africa—the cost, exercise, transmission and control of power—must be the object of a second anthropological reading of symbolic systems structuring the collective and the subjective, the institutional uses of rhetoric, and the specific conflicts they engender. Where does palabre fit in here?...

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pp. 70-72

The goal of reflection on palabre is not to impose a mode of thought coming from tribal society on the organization of the state. Nor is it a matter of making alabre a panacea that will resolve all the problems raised by the present organization of African societies. Palabre unlocks the trigger of historical reflection. It does not offer Western societies, often in love with exoticism, an “access to the primitive forces of human...

Other Essays

Rationalities and Legal Processes in Africa

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pp. 75-87

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Strategies for “Constructing Belief” in the African Public Sphere: “The Colonization of the Lifeworld”

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pp. 88-118

Nonidentity has been perpetually stifled in Africa by discourses and practices of repression. Research is needed to show how the political dimension affects the concept of possibility in Critical Theory and in the confrontation between African modernity and its possibilities. Further, the epistemo-political importance of such an inquiry must be demonstrated. Finally, given the multiplicity of parameters that...

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African Cultural Diversity in the Media

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pp. 119-130

The issue of cultural diversity in sub-Saharan Africa is an old problem that already concerned colonial administrations and postindependence African elites, the promoters of that common but extremely delicate commodity, democracy, and it still concerns today’s promoters of cosmopolitanism...

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Books between African Memory and Anticipation

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pp. 131-143

The book sows; whether one likes it or not, the book always spreads seeds. The capital letter “L,” one element of the symbol for Larousse dictionaries and encyclopedias in France (L is also the first letter of the word “book” in Romance languages), is there for a good reason: it “scatters in every direction.” L (either for “livre” or for “Larousse,” but let’s choose “livre”!) strews to the winds: Would the L therefore be “drunk"...

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The Internet and the African Academic World

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pp. 144-152

Any practice, technology, or form of expertise needs an account that can explain its basis and organization as well as its objectives. Whether the Internet is understood as a practice, or as a journey through a space that knows no borders, or whether one curses it as the latest example of human excess...


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pp. 153-180

Works Cited

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pp. 181-192


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pp. 193-197

About the Author and the Translator

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p. 241-241

E-ISBN-13: 9780253011282
Print-ISBN-13: 9780253011244

Page Count: 240
Publication Year: 2013

Series Title: World Philosophies