"Declarations of Dependence: Labor, Personhood, and Welfare in South Africa and Beyond"

The African Studies Center presents a talk by James Ferguson, Professor and Chair, Department of Anthropology, Stanford University.

Monday, April 06, 2009
11:30 AM - 1:30 PM
6275 Bunche Hall
6th floor History conference room
UCLA campus
Los Angeles, CA 90095

South Africa has in recent decades gone through a wrenching transformation from a labor-scarce society to a labor-surplus one. Labor scarcity through most of the 19th and 20th centuries led to forms of social solidarity and social personhood that had significant continuities with the pre-colonial past (continuities that are obscured by conventional narratives that emphasize the rise of capitalism as a complete and comprehensive break with the past). In recent decades, though, economic restructuring has radically reduced demand for low-skilled, manual labor, and mass unemployment has become a durable structural feature of South African society. This new situation is more radically different from the past than is generally recognized, and calls for new ways of thinking about social membership, work, "dependency", and social assistance. It is suggested that the South African experience reveals, in an extreme and clarifying form, a set of processes that are occurring in many other parts of the world. Better understanding such processes may help us to find our way past some of the current impasses in progressive politics.

About Professor Ferguson and his research:

Professor 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.

Professor Ferguson 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. He is currently Chair and Professor in the Department of Anthropology at Stanford University; he completed his PhD at Harvard in 1985.

About MASS:

This lecture is part of the Monday Africa Seminar Series (MASS) .  Monday Africa is a bi-weekly series that will feature innovative research by UCLA faculty, as well as outside visitors, and build an Africanist community at UCLA. Speakers will present recent books, unpublished papers, or ongoing research.

Special Instructions


Cost : Free and open to the public; pay-by-space and all-day ($9) parking is available in lot 3.

For more information please contact:

James S. Coleman African Studies Center



Sponsor(s): African Studies Center