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ARCHIE MAFEJE: AN INTELLECTUAL BIOGRAPHY 
 
 
 
By 
 
 
BONGANI NYOKA 
 
 
 
 
Submitted in accordance with the requirements for 
the degree of 
 
 
 
Doctor of Literature and Philosophy 
 
 
in the subject 
 
 
Sociology 
 
 
 
at the 
 
 
 
University of South Africa 
 
 
 
Supervisor: Prof Jimi Adesina 
 
 
 
 
 
June 2017 
 
ii 
 
Declaration 
 
Student Number: 4898-648-8 
 
I, Bongani Nyoka, declare that this thesis, Archie Mafeje: An Intellectual Biography, is my 
own work and that all the sources that I have used or quoted have been indicated and 
acknowledged by means of complete references. 
 
Signed: 
 
 
 
Bongani Nyoka Date: 27 June 2017 
 
 
 
This thesis is being submitted for examination with my approval. 
 
Signed: 
 
 
 
Supervisor: Prof Jimi Adesina Date: 27 June 2017 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
iii 
 
Abstract 
 
This thesis is not a life history of Archie Mafeje. Instead, it is an attempt to grapple with his 
ideas. This thesis is said to be a ‘biography’ insofar as it is dedicated to a study of one individual 
and his contribution to knowledge. In trying to understand Mafeje’s ideas and the intellectual 
and political environment that shaped them, the thesis relies on Lewis R. Gordon’s concept of 
‘epistemic possibility’. The thesis comprises four main parts. Part I locates Mafeje and his work 
within the broader African intellectual and political environment. Part II evaluates his critique 
of the social sciences. Part III focuses on his work on land and agrarian issues in sub-Saharan 
Africa. Part IV deals with his work on revolutionary theory and politics. Broadly speaking, this 
thesis is the first comprehensive engagement with the entire body of Mafeje’s scholarship. 
Specifically, the unique perspective of this thesis, and therefore its primary contribution to the 
existing body of knowledge, is that it seeks to overturn the idea that Mafeje was a critic of the 
discipline of anthropology only. The view that Mafeje was a mere critic of anthropology is in 
this thesis referred to as the standard view or the conventional view. The thesis argues that 
Mafeje is best understood as criticising all of the bourgeois social sciences for being 
Eurocentric and imperialist. This is offered as the alternative view. The thesis argues that the 
standard view makes a reformist of Mafeje, while the alternative view seeks to present him as 
the revolutionary scholar that he was. This interpretation lays the foundation for a profounder 
analysis of Mafeje’s work. In arguing that all the social sciences are Eurocentric and 
imperialist, he sought to liquidate them and therefore called for ‘non-disciplinarity’. It should 
be noted that in this regard, the primary focus of this thesis consists in following the unit of his 
thought and not whether he succeeded or failed in this difficult task. 
Keywords: Africa; Alterity; Alternative View; Anthropology; Decolonisation; 
Epistemology; Methodology; Land & Agrarian Issues; Revolutionary Theory; Standard View 
 
 
 
 
 
 
iv 
 
Table of Contents 
Title Page .................................................................................................................................... i 
Declaration ................................................................................................................................. ii 
Abstract ..................................................................................................................................... iii 
Acknowledgements .................................................................................................................. vii 
List of Acronyms ...................................................................................................................... ix 
Part I: Background and Context 
Chapter 1: Introduction 
1.0 Background and Context...................................................................................................... 2 
1.1 Importance and Scope of this Study .................................................................................... 3 
1.2 Literature on the Question of ‘Biography’........................................................................... 4 
1.3 Statement of the Problem ................................................................................................... 15 
1.4 Objectives of the Study ...................................................................................................... 16 
1.5 Research Questions ............................................................................................................ 16 
1.6 A Note on Method ............................................................................................................. 16 
1.7 Ethics Statement................................................................................................................. 19 
1.8 Structure of the Thesis ....................................................................................................... 19 
1.9 Summary ............................................................................................................................ 22 
Chapter 2: Archie Mafeje: His Intellectual and Political Environment 
2.0 Introduction ........................................................................................................................ 23 
2.1 Mafeje’s Background ......................................................................................................... 23 
2.2 From Cape Town to Cambridge ........................................................................................ 30 
2.3 Life in Exile ....................................................................................................................... 53 
2.4 Conclusion ......................................................................................................................... 76 
Part II: A Critique of the Social Sciences 
Chapter 3: From Liberal Functionalism to Radical Social Science 
3.0 Introduction ........................................................................................................................ 79 
3.1 Early Functionalist Writings ............................................................................................. 79 
3.2 On the Concept of Tribe and the Ideology of Tribalism .................................................... 84 
3.3 On Ethnic Groups, Ethnic Divisions and Ethnicity ........................................................... 93 
3.4 Conclusion ....................................................................................................................... 101 
Chapter 4: On Positivism, Functionalism and Alterity: A Critique of the Social Sciences 
4.0 Introduction ...................................................................................................................... 103 
4.1 Sociology of Knowledge and the ‘Totalising Critique’ of Social Change ..................... 104 
4.2 On Positivism and Functionalism in Anthropology ........................................................ 109 
4.3 On Idiographic and Nomothetic Enquiry ......................................................................... 117 
4.4 On the Epistemological Break and the Lingering Problem of Alterity ........................... 121 
v 
 
4.5 Conclusion ....................................................................................................................... 131 
Chapter 5: On Methodology and Epistemology: Reading The Theory and Ethnography 
of African Social Formations 
5.0 Introduction ......................................................................................................................

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