This book is dedicated to Jean Comaroff and John Comaroff because they taught me how ...Read More
University of Chicago
This book is dedicated to Jean Comaroff and John Comaroff because they taught me how to be a colleague. Their camaraderie, devotion to scholarship, playfulness, energy, sizzling intellects, political and philosophical commitments, and unwavering affection – their ability to show up for me (and for others) – remind me why I chose my peculiar form of political theory as my vocation. Authoritarian Apprehensions: Ideology, Judgment, and Mourning in Syria.
Together [John Comaroff] with his wife Jean, served as guides into a new, global anthropology; ...Read More
Emeritus professor of Anthropology of Africa; University of Amsterdam; Leiden University
Together [John Comaroff] with his wife Jean, served as guides into a new, global anthropology; that is, an anthropology that retains the classic assets of the discipline -- fieldwork, micro ethnography, a focus on the articulation of material circumstances with cultural life -- but re-interprets these to remain relevant in a world that is rapid globalizing. A milestone in this respect was their two volumes Of Revelation and Revolution, in which they brought together detailed research on the history of the Tswana peoples of southern Africa with equally detailed research on the history of the British mission that was to play such a big role in the region. Of particular interest was the way in which the Comaroffs highlighted not just the contrast between these two histories, but also their convergences and mutual articulations. A more recent example of the theoretical creativity that makes their work so inspiring is Theories from the South; Or, How Euro-America is Evolving toward Africa which made them forerunners in the present-day debate on ‘decolonizing’ anthropology. But their innovating impact in anthropology worldwide is not only related to the force and the inspirational quality of their publications. They have hosted many conferences and workshops where their brilliant debating style has helped participants open up new perspectives and try out new approaches. These qualities have also made them also exceptionally successful Ph.D. supervisors. I have also learned much from them in this respect: how to challenge students to ever deeper analytical efforts, but balancing this with deep personal involvement. No wonder that both in Chicago and at Harvard they attracted students from all over the world. The global span of their Nachwuchs guarantees that their work will continue to have an impact on anthropology long into the future as well.
[John and Jean Comaroff] have an uncanny ability to take a seemingly local and banal ...Read More
New School for Social Research
[John and Jean Comaroff] have an uncanny ability to take a seemingly local and banal subject, to convey truths about the times in which we live. Something they have done with witchcraft, crime, zombies, and the law. Unraveling both the fictions and force, the meanings and materialities, on which power is based. When the New York Times last week talked about the disenchantment with democracy across the globe, Jean and John were ahead of that story by miles. Not because they were in the throws of New York City politics, but because their antennas have long been glued to the frequencies where history unfolds, where the political is recast and to what emerges from new spaces from which the future is being made.
John and Jean Comaroff’‘s intellectual influence has been immense. It is to be found ...Read More
Wits Institute for Economic and Social Research, University of the Witwatersrand
John and Jean Comaroff’‘s intellectual influence has been immense. It is to be found in various areas of academic enquiry, from law, cultural studies, political economy to sociology, social studies of health and religion, arts and design...Their very significant intellectual influence and moral authority [has been] strenuously dedicated...to nurturing high quality scholarly communities. They brought together many of us through consistent ethical behavior, always respectful and responsible conduct, and a huge and extraordinary generosity and sense of humor. [Their] work has consistently brought together finely detailed ethnography, a broad hermeneutic approach to the interpretation of cultural practices, and a striking literary – and almost cinematic – sensibility...This is what has allowed them to write captivating and theoretically sophisticated books. I cannot insist enough on the priceless work Jean and John Comaroff have done in firmly placing the African continent on the international research agenda and contemporary intellectual debates. Through their own research, they have shown that there is no better vantage point than “ex-centric” locations to look at the contemporary planetary order in its totality.
Over the past 40 years or so…[Jean] solo or jointly has changed the face of ...Read More
Filip De Boeck
University of Leuven
Over the past 40 years or so…[Jean] solo or jointly has changed the face of anthropology and more generally our way of thinking about the African continent and its place in the world and in the global political economy. Her work has revolutionized African anthropology, starting with her seminal work Body of Power, Spirit of Resistance. It is a book which I still use in my teachings today….
Of the two, Jean Comaroff was the first I met. It was in the early 1990...Read More
Wits Institute for Economic and Social Research, University of the Witwatersrand
Of the two, Jean Comaroff was the first I met. It was in the early 1990s in New York City. Trained in France, I was among the second cohort of Francophone African scholars at the forefront of the trek which, by the early 2000, had driven countless talented intellectuals to the United States shores. Edouard Glissant, Mary se Conde, V.Y. Mudimbe had opened the gate a few years early. Thanks to a generous grant from the Ford Foundation and encouraged by Richard Joseph, I spent a year at the University of Wisconsin (Madison) in 1987-1988. A young Assistant Professor at Columbia University (New York) from 1988 onwards, I read Body of Power in the midst of the intellectual effervescence which prevailed in the social sciences and the humanities during the late 1980s. By the time Revelation and Revolution had been published, I had quickly realized that between Jean Comaroff and John Comaroff, there was no hyphen. Both have been a gift in our midst. It is in recognition of their contribution to the intellectual life of our times and the inseparability of their life and oeuvre that I write this brief testimonial. Both grew up in South Africa during the Apartheid years. Although they left after 1967, they both retained their roots in this country and region I, for my part, settled in in 2000. After Apartheid was abolished, they spent much of their lives moving between the United States, Africa and Europe. Throughout those years, they sharpened a mode of reading each of these places and locations through the eyes of the others. As a result of this endless process of reciprocal estrangement, a productive angle of vision as well as a strikingly original optic of the world was harnessed. This is arguably part of what allowed them to be at the forefront of one of the most theoretically inspiring and methodologically sensitive anthropological traditions of the late twentieth and early twenty-first century. There is no need to describe in detail Jean and John Comaroff’s seminal contribution to their discipline and to the humanities and social sciences. Their record speaks for itself. Their intellectual influence has been immense. It is to be found in various areas of academic enquiry, from law, cultural studies, political economy to sociology, social studies of health and religion, arts and design. It is no surprise that their work should be translated in so many languages, from French to Spanish, Portuguese, Polish, Mandarin, Italian etc… In the course of more than five decades, they have taught and mentored thousands of students in numerous institutions in the United States, the UK, France, Germany, Norway, Africa and elsewhere. Not only have they opened their homes to them, they have also shown patience, kindness and generosity, resourcefulness and open-mindedness to each of them. They allocated an extraordinary amount of time for each of their students, wrote numerous letters of recommendation, assisted them as they often struggled to prepare for fieldwork, to refine their research questions, to win research grants, to improve or reinforce their conceptual frameworks, to interpret their data so that valid conclusions could be drawn from their findings. They have fully supported them and consistently encouraged them to explore and achieve their true potential. The very significant intellectual influence and moral authority they yielded was put to the service of high quality research and teaching. At the various institutions they found themselves (University of Chicago, Harvard University) or with the various others they were affiliated with throughout the world, they strenuously dedicated their energy to nurturing high quality scholarly communities. They brought together many of us through consistent ethical behavior, always respectful and responsible conduct, and a huge and extraordinary generosity and sense of humor. In the current context in which “big data” and “information” is mistaken for “knowledge as such” while the social sciences tend to turn their back on theory in favor of neo-empiricism, I would like to highlight the way in which, throughout their long intellectual journey, they have combined and explored the interplay between detailed description and the macro-historical context in which culture and practices are situated. Almost since its inception, anthropology has been an interpretive science in search of the symbolic meanings that human actors ascribe to their practices within a defined political, economic, and cultural context. Jean and John Comaroff’s work has consistently brought together finely detailed ethnography, a broad hermeneutic approach to the interpretation of cultural practices, and a striking literary – and almost cinematic – sensibility. They have not only paid strenuous attention to the actor’s own frames of reference, their embodied and intersubjective engagements with their worlds. They have also made sure the organized stocks of taken-for-granted knowledge in which their everyday practices draw were accurately identified and accounted for. This is what has allowed them to write captivating and theoretically sophisticated books. Such, for instance, are the two volumes of Revelation and Revolution, which place the reader within unfamiliar social worlds rendered with extraordinary historical and phenomenological fluency through subtle narration and writing. Attentive to social antagonisms, cultural contestation and historical contingency, the two volumes, like numerous other works, point to ungrasped utopian possibilities not only within the past itself, but also within the reader’s present. The same impetus is evident in Law and Disorder in the Postcolony and in The Truth About Crime. The first volume makes sense of the ways in which citizens give meaning to and understand their social realities, particularly the making, unmaking and remaking of the thin lines between legal/illegal, formal/informal, order/disorder that define many facets of contemporary societies. The second shows how crime and policing serve as the medium through which reconfigured notions of sovereignty, authority, law and citizenship are nowadays molded. All, including Millennial Capitalism, pay considerable attention to life at the peripheries of the world and to forces often unseen or disregarded. In Jean and John Comaroff’s anthropology, these peripheries and the forces that move them become critical vantage points for theory-work in the social sciences and the humanities. As a scholar working from those reaches of the planet that were formerly colonized, I cannot insist enough on the priceless work Jean and John Comaroff have done in firmly placing the African continent on the international research agenda and contemporary intellectual debates. Indeed, the same goes for what nowadays goes by the name “the Global South.” Through their own research, they have shown that there is no better vantage point than these “ex-centric” locations to look at the contemporary planetary order in its totality. North and South, they argue, are caught up in the same meta-process of contemporary world-making. They have also been instrumental in infusing much needed energy into continental African debates, showing, for instance, that far from derivative, African modernity has always been plural. It has deep roots in the past and has long been the object of endogenous contention and contestation. I close this testimonial at a moment when, drifting away from academia, I genuinely wonder whether a place remains in the late global university for the kind of pedagogical project and intellectual endeavor pursued over so many years by Jean and John Comaroff. It is my hope that as it keeps transforming for the better, the university will remain a place where hospitality, freedom and creativity will always be the cornerstones for an intellectually satisfying and imaginative life.