Keynote Speakers

Professor Jean Comaroff

Professor Jean Comaroff has conducted fieldwork in southern Africa and Great Britain and is interested in colonialism, modernity, ritual, power, and consciousness. Her specific foci of study have included the religion of the Southern Tswana peoples (past and present); colonialism and Christian evangelism and liberation struggles in southern Africa; healing and bodily practice, and the making of local worlds in the wake of global "modernity" and commodification. Her current research concerns problems of public order, state sovereignty and policing in postcolonial contexts, and the challenging relation of legitimacy to force. For further information go to:

Keynote Title: Theory from the South: or, How Europe is Evolving Towards Africa

"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, 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, state privatization, corruption, ethnic conflict, it seems as though they are evolving southward, so to speak, in both positive and problematic ways. Is this so? In what measure? What might this mean for the very dualism on which such global oppositions rest? Drawing on recent research, primarily in Africa, this paper touches on a range of familiar themes - law, labour, and the contours of contemporary capitalism - in order to ask how we might understand these things with theory developed from an 'ex-centric' vantage. This view renders some key problems of our time at once strange and familiar, giving an ironic twist to the evolutionary pathways long assumed by social scientists.

Professor James Ferguson

Professor James Ferguson’s research has been conducted in Lesotho and Zambia, and has engaged a broad range of theoretical and ethnographic issues. A central theme running through it has been a concern with the political, broadly conceived, and with the relation between specific social and cultural processes and the abstract narratives of “development” and “modernization” through which such processes have so often been known and understood. Ferguson's most recent book, Global Shadows: Africa in the Neoliberal World Order, was published by Duke University Press in 2006. The essays that make up the book address a range of specific topics, ranging from structural adjustment, the crisis of the state, and the emergence of new forms of government-via-NGO, to the question of the changing social meaning of "modernity" for colonial and postcolonial urban Africans. They converge, however, around the question of "Africa" as a place in a wider categorical ordering of the world, and they use this question as a way to think about such large-scale issues as globalization, modernity, worldwide inequality, and social justice. He is now beginning a new research project in South Africa, exploring the emergence of new problematics of poverty and social policy under conditions of neoliberalism. For further information go to:

Keynote Title: Give a Man a Fish: The New Politics of Distribution in Southern Africa (and Beyond)

Narratives of neoliberalism's triumph have tended to obscure from view a startling fact about the contemporary world: that, across the global South, recent years have seen not a retreat or rollback of the welfare state, but rather an explosion of new forms of welfare and social assistance. Programs of "cash transfers" to "the poor" have become central to both the politics and the political economies of many developing countries. South Africa is one dramatic case where recent expansion of a system of old age pensions and child support grants means that nearly 30 percent of the entire population will soon be receiving some sort of monthly state social assistance. These programs raise fascinating questions about the role of welfare in societies where wage labour has never occupied the dominant role it played in the "classical" welfare states of the North. They may also open possibilities for new kinds of politics. This paper explores the recent campaigns for a "Basic Income Grant" (BIG) in South Africa and Namibia as a window onto these new political possibilities. It argues that a new politics of distribution is emerging, in which citizenship-based claims to a share of national wealth are beginning to be recognizable as an alternative to both the paradigm of the market (where goods are received in exchange for labour) and that of "the gift" (where social transfers to those excluded from wage labour have been conceived as aid, charity, or assistance). Beyond the binary of market and gift, the idea of "a rightful share", it is suggested, opens possibilities for radical political claims that could go far beyond the limited, technocratic aim of ameliorating poverty that dominates existing cash transfer programs.