Jean Comaroff

Alfred North Whitehead Professor of African and African American Studies and of Anthropology

Beer drinking

Beer drinking

Informal beer-drink; the two central figures, husband and wife, entertain guests

Mini Molefe

Mini Molefe

Mini Molefe, newly married wife of Seikanelo Lebotse, Bechuanaland Traffic Inspector

Mochudi houses

Mochudi houses

Mochudi: houses, with traditional mode of thatching and mural decoration

Acting Chief Isang

Acting Chief Isang

(Acting) Chief Isang, on the day of handing over chiefship to his nephew, Molefi, 14 October, 1929


After Labor

Wage work, it is said, is disappearing in the “new” age of capital, to rising alarm across the world. Yet there is little agreement about why,where, or in what measure. Or what might take its place in the foreseeable future.

Thinking on borrowed time…about privileging the human

It is possible to detect a sense of foreboding in the vibrant, engaging papers assembled here, an ominous sense of dread as the birds fly off and calamity seems imminent. First written for a conference in the spring of 2017, they convey a mood one might term post-millennial, a


In one form or another, the concept of dependence has, from the first, been foundational to modern understandings of humanity, society, and economy. For liberal theorists, individual freedom stemmed from a natural right to property that “owed nothing to society;” those without proprietorship of person and possessions were reduced

Afterword: Uncanny Modernities, Early and Late

As these lively essays attest, the modern self has always been open to spiritual doubles, to others of one kind or another, to ghostly presences that seem uncannily at home amidst the intimate reaches of ordinary existence, notwithstanding the norms of liberal individualism (Comaroff and Comaroff 2016:125). This fact

Uncanny Returns

Liberal modern personhood presumes a coherent, indivisible subject. Yet there is plentiful evidence to suggest that selfhood in modern times is often experienced as inchoate: as split, doubled, even overtaken by the haunting presence of intimate others, benevolent or benign. Steeling the individual against instability and fracture has been

Vigilantism And The Paradoxes Of Sovereignty

In October 2015, Lubabalo Vellem was arrested in Masiphumelele,1 a townshrlip of some 40,000 people some twenty-five miles south of Cape Town. Many of its residents are migrants from elsewhere in the country or the African continent at large. Vellem, aged 35, was accused of instigating “mob justice” in

The Dis/Appearing Body of Labor in Modern

The Laboring Body The laboring body is a curious thing: in the modern sense of homo faber, it connotes the psycho-physical activity through which human beings produce their modes of life, and in doing so, produce themselves as substantial sensuous, value producing beings. If, in Western thought, the capacity

Ethnicity, Inc.

In October 2000, Business Day, a leading South African newspaper, published an extraordinary story. Its title read: Traditional Leaders Form Private Firm for Investment.1 Contralesa, the Congress of Traditional Leaders, is the voice of ethnicity in this postcolony. It speaks for culture, customary law, and the collective rights of

Figuring Democracy

12.01 a.m., 25 April 1994. Wale Street, Cape Town, South Africa: The last strains of the anthem of the ancien regime – part requiem, part death- rattle – drift off into the night. A local choir, carefully rehearsed for the occasion, begins to belt out the new national song,

Foreward: Everyday State and Democracy in Africa

Everyday State and Democracy in Africa: Ethnographic Encounters, notable for both its timeliness and breadth of vision, mobilizes the distinctive, decentering perspectives of ethnography to capture the living practices, the everyday vernaculars, of the state and democracy in contemporary Africa. It exemplifies the turn in African studies—perhaps, more accurately,

The Wealth of Ethno-nations

The significance of ethnicity – of ethnicity understood as a foundational basis for forging selfhood and collective identity, feelings of primal attachment and shared affect, political claims to rights and the protection of interests, even for national belonging – has grown visibly over the past few decades. Needless to

Theory from the South

There appears to be a growing echo, slowly reverberating around the world, that, for good, ill, or both, Africa is the future, a harbinger of Europe’s history-to-come. Experts may debate the reasons for this: among them, a significant population bulge heavily skewed toward youth; an urban “revolution” unique in