Introducing Benda Hofmeyr

Benda Hofmeyr is a philosopher currently affiliated to the Department of Philosophy, University of Pretoria, South Africa, where she was awarded her 10-year long service award in 2019. She lived and worked in the Netherlands while completing her doctoral studies and postdoctoral research. She still maintains strong collaborative ties with the Radboud University Nijmegen where she obtained her doctoral degree in Philosophy on the work of Foucault and Levinas. Her research interests fall within the broad ambit of contemorary Continental philosophy (especially thinkers following in the wake of Heidegger with emphasis  on post-structuralism and phenomenology) with an enduring facination for the inextricable entanglement of the ethical and the political.

In her present research, she is reflecting on the entanglement of European and non-Western, especially post-colonial African philosophy and the possibility of a dialogue across these divergent yet fundamentally intertwined traditions of thought.

Benda is a passionate lecturer and thrives on engaging with her students. Interested to know what Benda's  postgraduate students think about her? Read her 2019 Honours student's feedback & comments .

 Complete CV in UP Format

Google Scholar Profile




* Please Contact me via my website rather than through one of the above profiles, since I don't get around to visiting or updating them as often as I would like. With so many platforms out there, I hope that you have found your way here via one of them or via Google and everything that you were looking for. Please feel free to Contact me should you have any questions or are in need of any text not available under Publications or Download. The Search function at the top of the page might also help you to find what you are looking for. 

« Something Rank About Rankings - Mail & Gaurdian | Main

Recent & Ongoing


Honours Module in Philosophy 2017 & 2018

Genealogy, History, Origin: Uses & Disadvantages for Life

Nietzsche and later Foucault introduced genealogy as a certain critical methodology opposed to an understanding of history in terms of progress, development or teleology. It also contests history conceived as that which is capable of uncovering the origin of something as if its truth is to be found at its birth (a genetic fallacy is committed when one appeals to the origins of an idea in order to make a claim about the truth of the idea). What happens to history and its idols – ‘origin’ and ‘telos’ when subjected to the genealogist’s hammer?

Our brief foray into the Philosophy of History will commence with Nietzsche’s essay, ‘The Uses and Disadvantages of History for Life’ (1874) – published in Untimely Meditations – in which Nietzsche critiques what he describes as ‘complacent historicism’. While Nietzsche subscribes to the thesis that every aspect and expression of human life is unavoidably conditioned by history, he vehemently rejects the whiggish consequences drawn from this thesis that history should be interpreted as the inevitable victory of progress over reaction.

In his essay, ‘Nietzsche, Genealogy, History’, Foucault provides us with a succinct overview and instructive interpretation of Nietzsche’s critical engagement with history and the manifold meanings of the notion of ‘origin’. What comes to light is the fact that the search for origins goes against the very grain of genealogy. Herkunft and Enstehung (as opposed to Ursprung) designate not the exact essence of things or their carefully preserved identities that can be unearthed by tracing back or restoring an unbroken continuity. Instead it shows the point of emergence to be place of confrontation, a place where a clash of forces had been staged. What emerges is neither essential nor necessarily linked to what came before it.

In his discussion of Foucault’s essay in The Signature of All Things, titled ‘Philosophical Archaeology’, Agamben ventures the question raised by Foucault but left unanswered: what happens once the notions of ‘origin’ or ‘subject’ have been conjured and dispelled? What are the consequences for our understanding of where things came from or began for the present and how does the ignominy of formation affect our imaginings of the future? If we understand the place of Herkunft to be not a place of foundation or inception, but rather as a non-place of opposition and dissolution, what precisely is the significance of this insight?

In The Names of History, Rancière critiques four schools of historiography, which he names (1) republican-romantic (represented by Michelet); (2) royal-empiricist (the royal chroniclers and contemporary revisionists such as Furet); (3) scientific history (Annales school); and (4) Marxist historiography. What is clear is that Rancière is calling for different thinking of history and it becomes apparent that he might be described as ‘a thinker of periods’ much like the ‘archaeological’ Foucault of The Order of Things. By revisiting multiple periods, Rancière comes to the conclusion that we are still in the period of class and classes. The untimely nature of class is of our age because our age is the period of nonrelation, of the excess of words and things brought about by the French Revolution. What is meant by ‘class’ in this context is not just what falls under the traditional Marxist-Leninist notion, but any classificatory category that can be re-appropriated by social movements to mean something else and placed at the service of struggle. From this point of view then, history repeats itself. In the Nietzschean sense, Rancière might be described as a thinker of continuity, not of progress but of continuity since wrongs are not corrected in the lessons learnt from history. History is the repetition of error, the rectification of which will not be found in thought but in struggle. What Rancière is saying is that when we look back at the French Revolution, in the face of biopolitics, neoliberalism and globalization, we must admit that nothing much has changed: history is the chronicling of on-going domination. In this sense, Rancière’s critical engagement with historiography may be likened to the wielding of the genealogist’s hammer.

In the second of Rancière’s commentaries on the revisionist historians of the French Revolution – Furet’s Interpreting the French Revolution (second part of the chapter, ‘The Excess of Words’) – he elaborates on a notion of the event as untimely or anachronistic. In tracing Rancière’s analysis of Furet’s account we will discover the second avenue through which we might be able link back to the questions raised by the genealogical methodologies of Nietzsche and Foucault, such as the meaning of conceiving of the point of emergence as a non-place of opposition and dissolution rather than as a place of inception. According to Rancière, as we shall see, in Furet’s interpretation of the French Revolution, the latter places a non-place at the centre of the event.

In this seminar series, we shall therefore attempt to come to a critical understanding of the genealogical methodologies of Nietzsche and Foucault by way of a close reading of a selection of key texts including Agamben’s reading of Foucault’s method. In the final instance, we shall venture into Rancière’s critical engagement with a number of historiographies in an attempt to think through some of the questions raised by a genealogical critique of ‘complacent historicism’.

Reader Comments

There are no comments for this journal entry. To create a new comment, use the form below.

PostPost a New Comment

Enter your information below to add a new comment.

My response is on my own website »
Author Email (optional):
Author URL (optional):
Some HTML allowed: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <code> <em> <i> <strike> <strong>