John Comaroff

Unscrewing the Inscrutable, or How to Make Sense of Identity in South Africa: An Exercise in Method and Theory


In January 2015 the Next Generation Social Sciences in Africa Program partnered with University of the Western Cape's Center for Humanities Research to convene fellows and assist them with their research design.

John Comaroff, the Hugh K. Foster Professor of African and African American Studies and of Anthropology and the Oppenheimer Fellow in African Studies at Harvard University, spoke to fellows assembled to develop dissertation proposals.

Professor Comaroff delivered a lecture that touched on topics including the waning of the concept of the common good, the commodification of ethnicity, and the sociology of criminology in both Cape Town and Ferguson. He encouraged researchers to think boldly when formulating research problems, pushing them to estrange research problems from pre-established methodologies and to follow objects of analysis into unfamiliar terrain. Professor Comaroff spoke of the growing pattern whereby economic and sociological events occur first in the Global South before migrating to the North. In the course of a remarkable talk, he encouraged scholars to begin recognizing Africa as a frontier of economic, political, and social patterns that constitute dilemmas encountered globally.

Below is an audio file of Professor Comaroff's lecture, as well as the accompanying question and answer session with fellows.