PBK Visiting Scholar
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.
"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.
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"