Offered at Union College, Winter 2008 as Anthropology 186
This course examines the contemporary societies of southern Africa, focusing on the period since the end of apartheid in South Africa. After a review of the rise and fall of apartheid, the course examines a series of topics related to changes and continuities over time. We begin with South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission, asking about its significance for participants, how this differed according to participants' social position, its intended audience, and the wider society. We then turn to the dilemmas of neoliberalism: South Africa's liberation movements drew on Marxist thought and promises of redistribution and 'a better life for all,' but have come to power in an international policy context that calls for downsizing the state, liberalizing trade and markets, and privatizing public services like water and electricity. Neoliberal policies are widely seen as partly responsible for the current crisis in Zimbabwe, our third topic: focusing on the area around Bulawayo, a center of the Ndebele minority population, we'll look at the strategies people have used to cope with political and economic turmoil. We then turn to labor migration to the mines, a feature of the region's economy for the last century, and its relation to the current HIV/AIDS epidemic, through an in-depth ethnographic study of a prevention program in a mining community. In week eight, we examine the contested topic of land, and the rights and wrongs of land restitution -- the promise of restoring land to those who lost it under apartheid, and the challenges of implementing it in practice. Week nine focuses on South African novelist and Nobel Prize winner J.M. Coetzee's Disgrace, a work that engages the moral complexities and unsettled hierarchies of post-apartheid South Africa. Finally, we consider tourism and immigration, considering the relationships between mobility and changing economic opportunities, and the ways in which material and symbolic boundaries are maintained and transgressed.
The course is not simply a course in history or current events in the region, nor a series of case studies. We will approach southern Africa through the analytic lenses of political anthropology. This has several implications. As far as possible, we will draw on works based in ethnographic fieldwork, linking the experiences of individuals and communities to larger processes of social change; draw on a characteristically anthropological way of thinking, asking how the world comes to be taken-for-granted, recognizing that this is a central element of political power; draw on an anthropological holism that calls into question the notion--inscribed in our academic disciplines--that economy, politics, the state, religion, etc. are separate domains of social life; and build on contemporary anthropological theorization of power, exchange, and social change, seeing history not as an explanation but something to be explained.