The Holberg Symposium: Democracy as a Community of Life

In African cosmogonies, all living entities are composed of symbiotic relations while complex infrastructures are required to sustain personhood.

Personhood itself is differentially redistributed among humans, animals, plants and material artefact. As technological escalation, the impending ecological catastrophe and wars of extermination unfold, can these cosmogonies form the basis for new ways of inhabiting the Earth and re-enchanting democracy? What kind of democracy? What will it take to create and sustain milieux which are hospitable to a variety of ways of being a person in this brutal and unforgiving world? 

This academic symposium is held in honour of the 2024 Holberg Laureate Achille Mbembe and his research. The Laureate introduces the topic, followed by presentations by invited guests (TBA), a panel discussion and in the end an open Q&A session.

Registration for the 2024 Holberg Week.



by Professor Jørgen Magnus Sejersted, Chair of the Holberg Prize Board

Introduction of the 2024 Holberg Laureate

by Professor Bjørn Enge Bertelsen, Academic Director of the Holberg Prize.

Introduction of the topic

by Holberg Laureate Achille Mbembe

The Sorcerer's Thread: Inter-Species Ontologies

The colonial encounter with Africa generated a number of problems, among which were the ambiguation of attitudes to collective pasts, the redistribution of the sources of self-regard and the inception of alienation, and the separation of humans from Nature concomitant on racial capitalism. It is the sorcerer's thread of storytelling that has sustained Africans in reframing the subjectivity of their freedom. I will draw on observations from African literature to illustrate these questions.

by Ato Quayson

The Body in Flight

How do we think beyond the vision of personhood found in liberal and neoliberal orders? What conception of gender, race, and the body fosters a vision of democracy as a community of life? This presentation will engage African & African diasporic literature and philosophy in order to think through these questions.

by Nasrin Olla

"Red, Black and Green." Greening Black Radical Traditions

The intensifying climate emergency in the overdeveloped zones necessitates responses to a rising tide of eco-fascism. Those answers need also to be connected with the historical understanding of the ways that antiracist movements fought earlier iterations of eugenic racism and militarism. With those problems in mind, this presentation will eddy around some un-excavated aspects of what might be called the folk ecologies and vernacular environmentalisms of the black Atlantic world.

by Paul Gilroy


by Holberg Laureate Achille Mbembe

Panel discussion and Q&A

moderated by Professor Bjørn Enge Bertelsen, Academic Director of the Holberg Prize.

Closing remarks

by Professor Bjørn Enge Bertelsen, Academic Director of the Holberg Prize.



Portrait of Achille Mbembe

Achille Mbembe

Achille Mbembe is the 2024 Holberg Laureate. Mbembe is a Research Professor of History and Politics at Wits Institute for Social and Economic Research, University of Witwatersrand. He is also Director of the Innovation Foundation for Democracy. A member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and a Fellow of the British Academy, Mbembe is the author of ten books and his work has been translated into 17 languages. His latest book is La communauté terrestre (Paris, La Découverte, 2023). 


Portrait of Ato Quayson

Ato Quayson

Ato Quayson is the Jean G. and Morris M. Doyle Professor of Interdisciplinary Studies and English and Chair of the Department of African and African American Studies at Stanford University. He was educated at the University of Ghana and at Cambridge University, where he took his PhD.




Portrait of Nasrin Olla

Nasrin Olla

Nasrin Olla specializes in continental philosophy, postcolonial theory, feminist & gender theory, and literature from Africa & its diaspora. In 2021, she was named one of the Top 200 Young South Africans by the Mail & Guardian. More information about Nasrin can be found on her website:




Portrait of Paul Gilroy

Paul Gilroy

Born in London, Gilroy has taught in several universities and written widely on matters of culture, politics, history, music and art. He is founding director of UCL's Sarah Parker Remond Centre for the Study of Racism and Racialisation. Gilroy was awarded the Holberg Prize in 2019.




Portrait of Bjørn Enge Bertelsen

Bjørn Enge Bertelsen

Bjørn Enge Bertelsen is Professor of Anthropology at the University of Bergen, and Academic Director of the Holberg Prize.





Portrait of Jørgen Sejersted

Jørgen Magnus Sejersted

Jørgen Magnus Sejersted is professor of Nordic literature at the University of Bergen, Norway. He is Chair of the Holberg Prize Board.


to 12:00, CEST.
The University Aula in Bergen
Practical information
Free admission.
Registration required.
The event will be livestreamed.