Theory from the South

Or, How Euro-America is Evolving Toward Africa

Publication Date: 01/01/2011

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“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 theory and explanation for world historical events. Yet, as many nation-states of the northern hemisphere experience increasing fiscal meltdown, the state privatization, populist authoritarianism, corruption, ethnic conflict, and other 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? In this volume, anthropologists Jean and John L. Comaroff take on these questions, seeking to reverse the usual order of things. Drawing on their long experience of living in Africa and teaching in Europe and the US, they address a range of familiar themes – democracy, law, national borders, labor and capital, religion and the occult, liberalism and multiculturalism – with the imagination, theoretical acuity, originality, and agile prose for which they are well- known. In particular, they ask how we might understand these things anew with theory developed from the south. Their ethnographic eye stresses the salience of the local without losing sight of the large-scale processes in everyday lives are everywhere enmeshed. This view from the South renders key problems of our time at once strange and familiar, giving an ironic twist to the explanatory pathways long assumed by social scientists – and offering fresh insights into the workings of the twenty-first century global order.

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