In this sophisticated study of power and resistance, Jean Comaroff analyzes the changing predicament of the Barolong boo Ratshidi, a people on the margins of the South African state. Like others on the fringes of the modern world system, the Tshidi struggle to construct a viable order of signs and practices through which they act upon the forces that engulf them. Their dissenting Churches of Zion have provided an effective medium for reconstructing a sense of history and identity, one that protests the terms of colonial and post-colonial society and culture.
The essays in this important new collection explore the diverse, unexpected, and controversial ways in which the idea of civil society has recently entered into populist politics and public debate throughout Africa.
In a substantial introduction, anthropologists Jean and John Comaroff offer a critical theoretical analysis of the nature and deployment of the concept—and the current debates surrounding it. Building on this framework, the contributors investigate the "problem" of civil society across their regions of expertise, which cover the continent. Drawing creatively on one another's work, they examine the impact of colonial ideology, postcoloniality, and development practice on discourses of civility, the workings of everyday politics, the construction of new modes of selfhood, and the pursuit of moral community.
Incisive and original, the book shows how struggles over civil society in Africa reveal much about larger historical forces in the post-Cold War era. It also makes a strong case for the contribution of historical anthropology to contemporary discourses on the rise of a "new world order."
John L. Comaroff and Jean Comaroff University of Chicago Press, 2009 Library of Congress GN495.6.C6454 2009 | Dewey Decimal 305.8
In Ethnicity, Inc. anthropologists John L. and Jean Comaroff analyze a new moment in the history of human identity: its rampant commodification. Through a wide-ranging exploration of the changing relationship between culture and the market, they address a pressing question: Wherein lies the future of ethnicity?
Their account begins in South Africa, with the incorporation of an ethno-business in venture capital by a group of traditional African chiefs. But their horizons are global: Native American casinos; Scotland’s efforts to brand itself; a Zulu ethno-theme park named Shakaland; a world religion declared to be intellectual property; a chiefdom made into a global business by means of its platinum holdings; San “Bushmen” with patent rights potentially worth millions of dollars; nations acting as commercial enterprises; and the rapid growth of marketing firms that target specific ethnic populations are just some of the diverse examples that fall under the Comaroffs’ incisive scrutiny. These phenomena range from the disturbing through the intriguing to the absurd. Through them, the Comaroffs trace the contradictory effects of neoliberalism as it transforms identities and social being across the globe.
Ethnicity, Inc. is a penetrating account of the ways in which ethnic populations are remaking themselves in the image of the corporation—while corporations coopt ethnic practices to open up new markets and regimes of consumption. Intellectually rigorous but leavened with wit, this is a powerful, highly original portrayal of a new world being born in a tectonic collision of culture, capitalism, and identity.
Law and Disorder in the Postcolony
Edited by Jean Comaroff and John L. Comaroff University of Chicago Press, 2006 Library of Congress HN980.L36 2006 | Dewey Decimal 364.97124
Are postcolonies haunted more by criminal violence than other nation-states? The usual answer is yes. In Law and Disorder in the Postcolony, Jean and John Comaroff and a group of respected theorists show that the question is misplaced: that the predicament of postcolonies arises from their place in a world order dominated by new modes of governance, new sorts of empires, new species of wealth—an order that criminalizes poverty and race, entraps the “south” in relations of corruption, and displaces politics into the realms of the market, criminal economies, and the courts.
As these essays make plain, however, there is another side to postcoloniality: while postcolonies live in states of endemic disorder, many of them fetishize the law, its ways and itsmeans. How is the coincidence of disorder with a fixation on legalities to be explained? Law and Disorder in the Postcolony addresses this question, entering into critical dialogue with such theorists as Benjamin, Agamben, and Bayart. In the process, it also demonstrates how postcolonies have become crucial sites for the production of contemporary theory, not least because they are harbingers of a global future under construction.
The essays in Millennial Capitalism and the Culture of Neoliberalism pose a series of related questions: How are we to understand capitalism at the millennium? Is it a singular or polythetic creature? What are we to make of the culture of neoliberalism that appears to accompany it, taking on simultaneously local and translocal forms? To what extent does it make sense to describe the present juncture in world history as an “age of revolution,” one not unlike 1789–1848 in its transformative potential? In exploring the material and cultural dimensions of the Age of Millennial Capitalism, the contributors interrogate the so-called crisis of the nation-state, how the triumph of the free market obscures rising tides of violence and cultures of exclusion, and the growth of new forms of identity politics. The collection also investigates the tendency of neoliberal capitalism to produce a world of increasing differences in wealth, environmental catastrophes, heightened flows of people and value across space and time, moral panics and social impossibilities, bitter generational antagonisms and gender conflicts, invisible class distinction, and “pariah” forms of economic activity. In the process, the volume opens up an empirically grounded, conceptual discussion about the world-at-large at a particularly momentous historical time—when the social sciences and humanities are in danger of ceding intellectual initiative to the masters of the market and the media. In addition to its crossdisciplinary essays, Millennial Capitalism and the Culture of Neoliberalism—originally the third installment of the journal Public Culture’s “Millennial Quartet”—features several photographic essays. The book will interest anthropologists, political geographers, economists, sociologists, and political theorists.
Contributors. Scott Bradwell, Jean Comaroff, John L. Comaroff, Fernando Coronil, Peter Geschiere, David Harvey, Luiz Paulo Lima, Caitrin Lynch, Rosalind C. Morris, David G. Nicholls, Francis Nyamnjoh, Elizabeth A. Povinelli, Paul Ryer, Allan Sekula, Irene Stengs, Michael Storper, Seamus Walsh, Robert P. Weller, Hylton White, Melissa W. Wright, Jeffrey A. Zimmerman
What role does ritual play in the everyday lives of modern Africans? How are so-called "traditional" cultural forms deployed by people seeking empowerment in a world where "modernity" has failed to deliver on its promises?
Some of the essays in Modernity and Its Malcontents address familiar anthropological issues—like witchcraft, myth, and the politics of reproduction—but treat them in fresh ways, situating them amidst the polyphonies of contemporary Africa. Others explore distinctly nontraditional subjects—among them the Nigerian popular press and soul-eating in Niger—in such a way as to confront the conceptual limits of Western social science. Together they demonstrate how ritual may be powerfuly mobilized in the making of history, present, and future.
Addressing challenges posed by contemporary African realities, the authors subject such concepts as modernity, ritual, power, and history to renewed critical scrutiny. Writing about a variety of phenomena, they are united by a wish to preserve the diversity and historical specificity of local signs and practices, voices and perspectives. Their work makes a substantial and original contribution toward the historical anthropology of Africa.
The contributors, all from the Africanist circle at the University of Chicago, are Adeline Masquelier, Deborah Kaspin, J. Lorand Matory, Ralph A. Austen, Andrew Apter, Misty L. Bastian, Mark Auslander, and Pamela G. Schmoll.
"Defining their enterprise as more in the direction of poetics than of prosaics, the Comaroffs free themselves to analyze a vivid series of images and events as objects of analysis. These they mine for clues to the 19th-century contents of the British imagination and of Tswana minds. They are themselves imagining the imagination of others, and they do the job with characteristic aplomb....The first volume creates an appetite for the second."—Sally Falk Moore, American Anthropologist
In the second of a proposed three-volume study, John and Jean Comaroff continue their exploration of colonial evangelism and modernity in South Africa. Moving beyond the opening moments of the encounter between the British Nonconformist missions and the Southern Tswana peoples, Of Revelation and Revolution, Volume II, explores the complex transactions—both epic and ordinary—among the various dramatis personae along this colonial frontier.
The Comaroffs trace many of the major themes of twentieth-century South African history back to these formative encounters. The relationship between the British evangelists and the Southern Tswana engendered complex exchanges of goods, signs, and cultural markers that shaped not only African existence but also bourgeois modernity "back home" in England. We see, in this volume, how the colonial attempt to "civilize" Africa set in motion a dialectical process that refashioned the everyday lives of all those drawn into its purview, creating hybrid cultural forms and potent global forces which persist in the postcolonial age.
This fascinating study shows how the initiatives of the colonial missions collided with local traditions, giving rise to new cultural practices, new patterns of production and consumption, new senses of style and beauty, and new forms of class distinction and ethnicity. As noted by reviewers of the first volume, the Comaroffs have succeeded in providing a model for the study of colonial encounters. By insisting on its dialectical nature, they demonstrate that colonialism can no longer be seen as a one-sided relationship between the conquering and the conquered. It is, rather, a complex system of reciprocal determinations, one whose legacy is very much with us today.
This volume presents for the first time the selected photographs of the renowned British anthropologist Isaac Schapera (1905–2003). Taken between 1929 and 1934, largely during his earliest work among the Kgatla peoples of Bechuanaland (now Botswana), the 136 images in this selection reveal an emotional engagement and aesthetic impulse that Schapera seldom expressed in his writings. Covering a broad spectrum of daily activities, they include depictions of everything from pot making, thatching, and cattle herding to village architecture, vernacular medicine, and rainmaking ceremonies. Visually fascinating and of exceptional quality, these images capture the uniqueness of an African people in a particular time and place. They are contexualized and their significance explained in Jean and John Comaroff’s insightful introduction, while Adam Kuper’s illuminating biographical sketch of Schapera provides new insight into the life of the photographer. Picturing a Colonial Past reveals not only a rare side of old Botswana, but also of one of the most famous anthropologist who worked there.
How are we to explain the resurgence of customary chiefs in contemporary Africa? Rather than disappearing with the tide of modernity, as many expected, indigenous sovereigns are instead a rising force, often wielding substantial power and legitimacy despite major changes in the workings of the global political economy in the post–Cold War era—changes in which they are themselves deeply implicated.
This pathbreaking volume, edited by anthropologists John L. Comaroff and Jean Comaroff, explores the reasons behind the increasingly assertive politics of custom in many corners of Africa. Chiefs come in countless guises—from university professors through cosmopolitan businessmen to subsistence farmers–but, whatever else they do, they are a critical key to understanding the tenacious hold that “traditional” authority enjoys in the late modern world. Together the contributors explore this counterintuitive chapter in Africa’s history and, in so doing, place it within the broader world-making processes of the twenty-first century.
In this book, renowned anthropologists Jean and John L. Comaroff make a startling but absolutely convincing claim about our modern era: it is not by our arts, our politics, or our science that we understand ourselves—it is by our crimes. Surveying an astonishing range of forms of crime and policing—from petty thefts to the multibillion-dollar scams of too-big-to-fail financial institutions to the collateral damage of war—they take readers into the disorder of the late modern world. Looking at recent transformations in the triangulation of capital, the state, and governance that have led to an era where crime and policing are ever more complicit, they offer a powerful meditation on the new forms of sovereignty, citizenship, class, race, law, and political economy of representation that have arisen.
To do so, the Comaroffs draw on their vast knowledge of South Africa, especially, and its struggle to build a democracy founded on the rule of law out of the wreckage of long years of violence and oppression. There they explore everything from the fascination with the supernatural in policing to the extreme measures people take to prevent home invasion, drawing illuminating comparisons to the United States and United Kingdom. Going beyond South Africa, they offer a global criminal anthropology that attests to criminality as the constitutive fact of contemporary life, the vernacular by which politics are conducted, moral panics voiced, and populations ruled.
The result is a disturbing but necessary portrait of the modern era, one that asks critical new questions about how we see ourselves, how we think about morality, and how we are going to proceed as a global society.