Ethiopia in Theory: Revolution and Knowledge Production, 1964-2016


Between the years 1964 and 1974, Ethiopian post-secondary students studying at home, in Europe, and in North America produced a number of journals. In these they explored the relationship between social theory and social change within the project of building a socialist Ethiopia. Ethiopia in Theory examines the literature of this student movement, together with the movement’s afterlife in Ethiopian politics and society, in order to ask: what does it mean to write today about the appropriation and indigenisation of Marxist and mainstream social science ideas in an Ethiopian and African context; and, importantly, what does the archive of revolutionary thought in Africa teach us about the practice of critical theory more generally?

Prices from (excl. shipping):

Add to Cart
Elleni Centime Zeleke, Ph.D (2016), Assistant Professor in the Department of Middle Eastern, South Asian and African Studies at Columbia University in the City of New York. Her previous work has been published by the Journal of NorthEast African Studies and Callaloo: A Journal of African Diaspora Arts and Letters.
Listen to Elleni Centime Zeleke discuss the book with Madina Thiam in this podcast by the New Books Network (2020)
"Ethiopia in Theory deserves the widest readership. First for its recovery of the intellectual and political enterprise of the last three Ethiopian generations through a dazzling method at once archival, literary, and auto/ethnographic. Second for illuminating a dark space in Twentieth-century global history: how intellectuals outside Europe, or in diasporas, put Marxism and ‘Western’ social sciences to work. Historians of elsewhere in the Tricontinent will find a valuable lens in this portrait of the intellectual origins, climax and aftermaths of the Ethiopian Revolution. For it was not just in Ethiopia that the emancipatory promise of c. 1960 collapsed through its own contradictions and yet, like the anchor to a blues chord, stubbornly persists." - Richard Drayton, Rhodes Professor of Imperial History, King’s College London, author of Nature's Government: Science, Imperial Britain, and the "Improvement" of the World.
"Ethiopia in Theory is an ambitious, surprising book. Its focus is the Ethiopian student movement of the 1960s and 1970s in Addis Ababa and across the globe, and its relationship to the great upheavals of revolutionary Ethiopia. It gives us a highly original analysis of the ideas produced by this movement based on a close reading of its texts, but does much more than that too. It offers not just an analysis of the social science ideas of the students themselves and the ways in which they shaped and were shaped by Ethiopian history, but also of the categories used to study those ideas. This double move reflects a deep interest in understanding the politics of knowledge production in Ethiopia and Africa, and gives us a novel means of doing so. It is a move that is also rooted in Zeleke’s own life story, and is thus an act of self-recovery too. This crossing of disciplines, genres and viewpoints has produced an extraordinarily productive and engaging account of a momentous time." - Jocelyn Alexander, Professor of Commonwealth Studies, University of Oxford, author of The Unsettled Land: The Politics of Land and State-making in Zimbabwe, 1893-2003
"This superb book will transform all discussions concerning the production of knowledge. Ranging through the archives, moving across philosophy and critical theory, and traversing social history, Ethiopia in Theory frames a stunningly original account of the Ethiopian student movement of the 1960s and ‘70s as a site for the production of radical social science. Rather than the mere reception of revolutionary theory in an African context, Zeleke shows us the dynamics of its generation. There is truly nothing in the literature that comes close to the depth of this multi-leveled, interdisciplinary study. Zeleke’s outstanding book deserves the widest possible readership in social history, African studies, post-colonial analysis, and Marxist and critical theory in general." - David McNally, Cullen Distinguished Professor of History, University of Houston, author of Monsters of the Market: Zombies, Vampires and Global Capitalism
"Political research on the period from roughly 1966 to the mid-1970s often fail to articulate the global dimensions of student movements in African countries. This much-overdue study of the Ethiopian example offers, with nuance, rich historical evidence, and wonderfully clear prose, the revolutionary situation in which, as its author Elleni Centime Zeleke aptly puts it, the bandit is transformed into “a guerilla or leader.” In response to those who cry “illiberalism,” this work reveals an alignment with other movements of what is at times called “the black radical tradition” through which the response, echoed with explanatory force and defiance through the corridors of history, is that those at the bottom cannot and should not wait. As such, this extraordinary book also illuminates the complexity, strengths, and shortcomings of revolutionary forms of knowledge and praxis in Afro-modernity." - Lewis R. Gordon, Professor of Philosophy, University of Connecticut, author of Existentia Africana and What Fanon Said
"An original and pathbreaking study of the ideology and the intellectual traditions that informed the Ethiopian revolution of 1974. Ethiopia in Theory provides sophisticated analysis of the ideas of the Ethiopian student movement of the 1960s and the way in which these ideas have continued to shape state policies in contemporary Ethiopia. This meticulously researched book offers a unique perspective for the study of revolutions and the socialist experience in Africa as well as the process of local knowledge production. It will undoubtedly appeal to a wide range of scholars beyond the field of African studies." - Ahmad Sikainga, Professor of African History, Ohio State University, author of City of Steel and Fire: A social History of Atbara, Sudan’s Railway Town, 1906-1984
“In Ethiopia in Theory, Elleni Centime Zeleke imaginatively transgresses disciplinary boundaries to offer a rendering of the 1974 Ethiopian revolution that is part memoir, part historical ethnography, part political theory. […] Zeleke’s rich engagement with the Ethiopian student movement serves as a critical reminder of the plurality of black geographies of struggle, and it is precisely this plurality that is generative of new memories, and new imaginations of the future.” - Samar Al-Bulushi, University of California, Irvine, in: Humanities and Social Sciences Online (2020)
“… in attuning us to the constitution of social science as an ideological and political battlefield, Zeleke offers a model of how we might map the global Third World efforts to indigenize social theory in service of social transformation.” - Adom Getachew, University of Chicago, in: Humanities and Social Sciences Online (2020)
“… the book offers a reading of what it means to be human in a world that has been made by the social sciences. […] In order to appreciate the political imperative, epistemic elaboration, and the social ramifications of this social science project, one must be willing to step outside of it, to make an account of it and to tell its story. This, in effect, is what Zeleke does with great care, rigor, and urgency.” - Wendell Marsh, Rutgers University-Newark, in: Humanities and Social Sciences Online (2020)
“Elleni’s notable contribution with this book is in showing the lasting legacy of the student movement”. - Hewan Semon Marye, in: Aethiopica 24, 2021
Donald L. Donham
Note on Citations

 1 Revolutionary Ethiopia
 2 Background to the Project
 3 Fieldwork
 4 Structure of the Book

Part 1 Knowledge Production and Social Change in Ethiopia

1 The Children of the Revolution: Toward an Alternative Method
 1 I Don’t Have Tizita

2 Social Science Is a Battlefield: Rethinking the Historiography of the Ethiopian Revolution
 1 Early Histories of the Revolution and the International Left
 2 Historiography of the Liberated Zones
 3 Historical Contiguity
 4 The Student Movement Grows Up

3 Challenge: Social Science in the Literature of the Ethiopian Student Movement
 1 Challenge 1965–9: The Moment of Departure
 2 Our Collective Backwardness
 3 The Method of the Idea
 4 The Making of a Programme
 5 The Moment of Manoeuvre: Debates on the National Question
 6 Challenge in the World
 7 Conclusion

4 When Social Science Concepts Become Neutral Arbiters of Social Conflict: Rethinking the 2005 Elections in Ethiopia
 1 The 2005 Federal Elections
 2 Discussion

5 Passive Revolution: Living in the Aftermath of the 2005 Elections

Part 2 Theory as Memoir

6 The Problem of the Social Sciences in Africa
 1 The Problem of the Social Sciences in Africa
 2 Rethinking Transitions to Capitalism
 3 Knowledge Production in Africa
 4 Anthropological Nature and the Possibility of Critique
 5 Critical-Practical Thought
 6 The Human as Subject and Object
 7 A Theory of Human Development
 8 Coda

All interested in the Ethiopian revolution, the history of social change in Africa, comparative political theory, critical theory and intellectual history of the global south.
  • Collapse
  • Expand