Theory from the South: Jean and John Comaroff

October 23 - 25, 2012

The Interdisciplinary Studies Institute (ISI) hosted inspirational anthropologists Jean and John Comaroff for its inaugural residency. For the past thirty years, the Comaroffs’ work has influenced a generation of scholars interested in questions of identity and resistance in both colonial and postcolonial cultures in Africa and elsewhere. Writing both separately and together, their recent work has ventured into the intersections of law and ethnicity as well as relations between the global north and south. For many years distinguished professors at the University of Chicago, Jean and John Comaroff are now Professors of African and African American Studies and Oppenheimer Fellows in African Studies at Harvard University. Their most recent books include Law and Disorder in the Postcolony (2006), Ethnicity, Inc. (2009), and Theory from the South, or How Euro-America is Evolving Toward Africa (2011).


Theory from the South
The Inaugural ISI Residency Lecture
Tuesday, October 23rd
4:30 pm
Massachusetts Room, Mullins Center

Rarely has the “Global South” been seen as a source of theory and explanation for world historical events. Yet, as many nation-states of the northern hemisphere experience increasing fiscal meltdown, state privatization, corruption, ethnic conflict, and other crises, it seems as though the “Global North” is evolving southward, so to speak, in both positive and problematic ways. In tracing this pattern the lecture asked how we might understand the world through theory developed in the south, presenting a new twist to the evolutionary pathways long assumed by social scientists.

Divine Detection
Public lecture
Thursday, October 25th
4:30 pm
Campus Center, Room 101

This talk examined the problematic relation of law, citizenship, and sovereignty in contemporary African polities, especially in post-apartheid South Africa. Many African postcolonies are haunted by the waning efficacy of enforcement, the ambiguity of authority, the incapability of the state in recognizing its subjects. The lecture focused on the “metaphysics of disorder” that seems to be conjured in its wake.

The Politics of Memory/Judicialization of History
Interdisciplinary graduate seminar, lunch provided
Thurs Oct 25th
Draper Hall, 2nd floor conference room
Email by October 10th to register

The Comaroffs discussed ‘History on Trial: Memory, Evidence, and the Forensic Production of the Past’ from Theory from the South in a small seminar with graduate students from the College of Humanities and Fine Arts and the College of Behavioral and Social Sciences. This was an opportunity for our students not only to meet with a pair of unusually illuminating scholars and theorists, but also to engage with one another across fields and forms of understanding.

Additional Visits
In addition, the Comaroffs visited two graduate seminars in the Anthropology Department, an undergraduate class in the History Department on “Truth and Reconciliation, History and Justice,” and met with the current ISI Faculty Fellows on the topic “Engagement: The Challenge of Public Scholarship.”