Anthropologists Jean and John Comaroff are presenting two lectures this week as the inaugural scholars of the Interdisciplinary Studies Institute’s (ISI) residency, which is focused on the theme of “Theory From the South.”
For the past 30 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, the Comaroffs are now at Harvard University as professors of African and African American studies and Oppenheimer Fellows in African Studies. 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).
They will present the inaugural ISI residency lecture, “Theory from the South,” on Tuesday, Oct. 23at 4:30 p.m. in the Massachusetts Room in the 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. Is this so? And if so, how and in what measure? The lecture takes on these questions. In particular, it asks 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.
Then, on Thursday, Oct. 25 at 4:30 p.m. in 101 Campus Center, the Comaroffs will present a lecture titled “Divine Detection.” This talk, developed from a larger work entitled “Policing the Postcolony,” examines the problematic relation of law, citizenship and sovereignty in contemporary African polities, especially in post-apartheid South Africa. Walter Benjamin famously insisted that modern police wielded a “ghostly,” all-pervasive violence, called upon at points where the state was unable to govern by legal means. Yet many African postcolonies are haunted by a different specter: the waning efficacy of enforcement, the ambiguity of authority, the incapability of the state in recognizing its subjects. This talk focuses on the “metaphysics of disorder” that is palpable in popular South African culture and the kinds of forensic fetishes that seem to be conjured in its wake.