Ethnography and the Historical Imagination
Over the years John and Jean Comaroff have broadened the study of culture and society with their reflections on power and meaning. In their work on Africa and colonialism they have explored some of the fundamental questions of social science, delving into the nature of history and human agency, culture and consciousness, ritual and representation. How are human differences constructed and institutionalized, transformed and (sometimes) effaced, empowered and (sometimes) resisted? How do local cultures articulate with global forms? How is the power of some people over others built, sustained, eroded, and negated? How does the social imagination take shape in novel yet collectively meaningful ways?Addressing these questions, the essays in this volume—several never before published—work toward an “imaginative sociology,” demonstrating the techniques by which social science may capture the contexts that human beings construct and inhabit. In the introduction, the authors offer their most complete statement to date on the nature of historical anthropology. Standing apart from the traditional disciplines of social history and modernist social science, their work is dedicated to discovering how human worlds are made and signified, forgotten and remade.
Part One of the volume, “Theory, Ethnography, Historiography,” includes chapters on ethnographic method and imaginative sociology, totemism and ethnicity, and the anthropology of the body as an historical practice. Part Two, “Dialectical Systems, Imaginative Sociologies,” covers the analysis of African societies and polities over time, the relationship between cattle and capital in those societies, and the meaning of labor in apartheid South Africa. Finally, Part Three, “Colonialism and Modernity,” explores the impact of imperialism on African polities, medicine and colonialism, the impact of colonization on African consciousness, and the ways in which colonization reconstructed concepts of home reciprocally in Africa and Europe.