PBK Visiting Scholar

John Comaroff

Before joining the Harvard faculty in 2012, Dr. Comaroff was Swift Distinguished Professor of Anthropology at the University of Chicago, where he received a Quantrell Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching, and Honorary Professor of Anthropology at the University of Cape Town.  He is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

His current research in South Africa is on crime, policing, and the workings of the state; on democracy and difference; and on postcolonial politics.  Authored and edited books include, with Jean Comaroff, Of Revelation and Revolution (2 vols.), Ethnography and the Historical Imagination, Modernity and Its Malcontents, Civil Society and the Political Imagination in Africa, Millennial Capitalism and the Culture of Neoliberalism, Law and Disorder in the Postcolony, Ethnicity, Inc., Zombies et frontières à l’ère néolibérale, and Theory from the South: Or, How Euro-America Is Evolving Toward Africa.

Lecture Descriptions

"How Europe and America Are Evolving Towards Africa; or, Theory from the South"

"The Global South" has become a shorthand for the world of non-European, postcolonial peoples. Synonymous with uncertain development, unorthodox economies, failed states, and nations fraught with corruption, poverty, incivility, and strife, it is that half of the world about which the "Global North" spins theories. Rarely is it seen as a source of explanation for world historical events. Yet, as many nation-states of the northern hemisphere experience increasing fiscal meltdown, state privatization, corruption, creeping poverty, ethnic conflict, xenophobia, problems of law and order, and other perceived crises, it seems as though they are evolving southward, so to speak, in both positive and problematic ways. Is this so? How? In what measure? This lecture takes on these questions.

"Ethnicity, Inc."

The politics of cultural identity appears to be on the rise as never before, having taken on new force with the end of the cold war -- and, especially, with the triumphal rise of global capitalism. This has yielded many efforts to explain the continued salience of ethnicity in a "new" world order that, in the late 1980s and early 1990s, was widely predicted to dissolve difference in the face of the heightened flow of people, objects, currencies, signs, styles, desires across the planet. Less attention, however, has been paid to a subtle shift in the nature of ethnicity: the fact that, increasingly, ethnic groups almost everywhere are acting more and more like corporations, business that own a "natural" copyright to their cultural products, which they husband and protect, often by recourse to the law – and on which they capitalize in much the same way as do large firms in the private sector. Why is this occurring? What are its political, economic, social, and ethical consequences? How is it transforming the nature of ethnicity and citizenship in the 21st century nation-state? And what are its implications for understanding such foundational social science concepts as culture and identity? It is these questions, finally, that the lecture addresses.

Article: "Reflections on Liberalism, Policulturalism, and ID-ology:
Citizenship and Difference in South Africa"