Non-binary gender in African personhood?

South African Journal of Philosophy 42 (3):246-260 (2023)
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Abstract

A case has been made by various authors that the normative and processual notion of personhood found in African philosophy is discriminatory: it has been labelled as sexist, ableist and anti-queer. Within the anti-queer critique, one area that has not been specifically addressed in the literature is whether this notion of personhood is biased against people who identify as non-binary with respect to gender. This includes people who are gender fluid and gender neutral, among others. In this article, we argue that the binary conception of gender is deeply connected to a colonial agenda, and does not accurately fit extra-colonial gender conceptions. Through an analysis of extra-colonial language and logic, read together with the flexibility inherent in the processual notion of personhood (on our reading), we argue that binaries do not sit comfortably with extra-colonial African thinking, and as such, processual and normative personhood can be understood in a way that embraces non-binary individuals. Further, the standards for achieving personhood are set by and achieved within the community, so a community which recognises and celebrates non-binary individuals can set up a framework for them to achieve personhood. Accordingly, normative personhood in African thought is found not to exclude those of non-binary gender. This reading saves the normative approach from some of the critiques levelled against it, as well as: i) enhancing consistency in an African world view; ii) strengthening the decolonial agenda; and iii) showing normative personhood to be fairer and more inclusive.

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Louise du Toit
University of Stellenbosch

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The death of nature.Carolyn Merchant - forthcoming - Environmental Philosophy: From Animal Rights to Radical Ecology.
Feminism and the Mastery of Nature.Val Plumwood - 1993 - Environmental Values 6 (2):245-246.
On the Normative Conception of a Person.Ifeanyi A. Menkiti - 2005 - In Kwasi Wiredu (ed.), A Companion to African Philosophy. Oxford, UK: Blackwell. pp. 324–331.

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