Ethnography and the Historical Imagination

Front Cover
Westview Press, 1992 - Social Science - 337 pages
2 Reviews
Over the years John and Jean Comaroff have broadened the study of culture and society with their reflections on power and meaning. In their work on Africa and colonialism they have explored some of the fundamental questions of social science, delving into the nature of history and human agency, culture and consciousness, ritual and representation. How are human differences, constructed and institutionalized, transformed and (sometimes) effaced, empowered and (sometimes) resisted? How do local cultures articulate with global forms? How is the power of some people over others built, sustained, eroded, and negated? How does the social imagination take shape in novel yet collectively meaningful ways? Addressing' these questions, the essays in this volume--several never before published--work towards an "imaginative sociology, " demonstrating the techniques by which social science may capture the contexts that human beings construct and inhabit. In the introduction, the authors offer their most complete statement to date on the nature of historical anthropology. Standing apart from the traditional disciplines of social history and modernist social science, their work is dedicated to discovering how human worlds are made, and signified, forgotten and remade.

What people are saying - Write a review

We haven't found any reviews in the usual places.


Dialectical Systems Imaginative Sociologies
Images of Empire Contests of Conscience
Medicine Colonialism and the Black Body
The Colonization of Consciousness
Homemade Hegemony
About the Book and Authors

Common terms and phrases

Popular passages

Page 243 - ... their power. We must dissolve their charms by our medicines. God has given us one little thing, which you know nothing of. He has given us the knowledge of certain medicines by which we can make rain. We do not despise those things which you possess, though we are ignorant of them. We don't understand your book, yet we don't despise it. You ought not to despise our little knowledge, though you are ignorant of it.
Page 243 - We both believe the very same thing. It is God that makes the rain, but I pray to him by means of these medicines, and, the rain coming, of course it is then mine. It was I who made it for the Bakwains for many years, when they were at Shokuane; through my wisdom, too, their women became fat and shining. Ask them ; they will tell you the same as I do. MD — But we are distinctly told in the parting words of our Saviour that we can pray to God acceptably in His name alone, and not by means of medicines.
Page 244 - I use my medicines, and you employ yours; we are both doctors, and doctors are not deceivers. You give a patient medicine. Sometimes God is pleased to heal him by means of your medicine; sometimes not — he dies. When he is cured, you take the credit of what God does, I do the same. Sometimes God grants us rain, sometimes not. When he does, we take the credit of the charm. When a patient dies, you don't give up trust in your medicine, neither do I when rain fails.
Page 27 - Comaroff 1991:13f), we take culture to be the semantic space, the field of signs and practices, in which human beings construct and represent themselves and others, and hence their societies and histories.
Page 176 - The poetry of representation, in short, is not an aesthetic embellishment of a "truth" that lies elsewhere. [It is] the stuff of everyday thought and action — of the human consciousness through which culture and history construct each other.
Page 183 - The image of colonialism as a coherent, monolithic process seems, at last, to be wearing thin. That is why we are concerned here with the tensions of empire, not merely its triumphs; with the contradictions of colonialism, not just its crushing progress. This is not to diminish the brute domination suffered by the colonized peoples of the modern world, or to deny the Orwellian logic on which imperial projects have been founded.
Page 145 - Those laws which still prevent free commercial intercourse among the civilized nations seem to be nothing else but the remains of our own heathenism. My observations on this subject make me extremely desirous to promote the preparation of the raw materials of European manufactures in Africa, for by that means we may not only put a stop to the slave-trade, but introduce the negro family into the body corporate of nations, no one member of which can suffer without the others suffering with it. Success...
Page 243 - That's just the way people speak when they talk on a subject of which they have no knowledge. When we first opened our eyes, we found our forefathers making rain, and we follow in their footsteps.
Page 7 - All that the historian or ethnographer can do, and all that we can expect of either of them, is to enlarge a specific experience to the dimensions of a more general one, which thereby becomes accessible as experience to men of another country or another epoch. And in order to succeed, both historian and ethnographer, must have the same qualities : skill, precision, a sympathetic...
Page 29 - Hegemony, then, is that part of a dominant ideology that has been naturalized and, having contrived a tangible world in its image, does not appear to be ideological at all.

References to this book

All Book Search results »

About the author (1992)

John Comaroff is professor of anthropology and sociology at the University of Chicago, where Jean Comaroff is professor of anthropology.

Bibliographic information