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Modernity and Its Malcontents

Ritual and Power in Postcolonial Africa

What role does ritual play in the everyday lives of modern Africans? How are so-called "traditional" cultural forms deployed by people seeking empowerment in a world where "modernity" has failed to deliver on its promises?

Some of the essays in Modernity and Its Malcontents address familiar anthropological issues—like witchcraft, myth, and the politics of reproduction—but treat them in fresh ways, situating them amidst the polyphonies of contemporary Africa. Others explore distinctly nontraditional subjects—among them the Nigerian popular press and soul-eating in Niger—in such a way as to confront the conceptual limits of Western social science. Together they demonstrate how ritual may be powerfuly mobilized in the making of history, present, and future.

Addressing challenges posed by contemporary African realities, the authors subject such concepts as modernity, ritual, power, and history to renewed critical scrutiny. Writing about a variety of phenomena, they are united by a wish to preserve the diversity and historical specificity of local signs and practices, voices and perspectives. Their work makes a substantial and original contribution toward the historical anthropology of Africa.

The contributors, all from the Africanist circle at the University of Chicago, are Adeline Masquelier, Deborah Kaspin, J. Lorand Matory, Ralph A. Austen, Andrew Apter, Misty L. Bastian, Mark Auslander, and Pamela G. Schmoll.

272 pages | 1 halftone, 1 line drawing | 6 x 9 | © 1993

African Studies

Anthropology: Cultural and Social Anthropology

Table of Contents

Chapter 1: Introduction
Jean and John Comaroff
Part I: (Re)visions of Power, Ritual (Trans)formations
Chapter 2: Narratives of Power, Images of Wealth: The Ritual Economy of Bori in the Market
Adeline Masquelier
Chapter 3: Chewa Visions and Revisions of Power: Transformations of the Nyau Dance in Central Malawi
Deborah Kaspin
Chapter 4: Government by Seduction: History and the Tropes of "Mounting" in Oyo-Yoruba Religion
J. Lorand Matory
Part II: Moral Economics, Modern Politics, Mystical Struggles
Chapter 5: The Moral Economy of Witchcraft: An Essay in Comparative History
Ralph A. Austen
Chapter 6: Attinga Revisited: Yoruba Witchcraft and the Cocoa Economy, 1950-1951
Andrew Apter
Chapter 7: Bloodhounds Who Have No Friends: Witchcraft and Locality in the Nigerian Popular Press
Misty L. Bastian
Chapter 8: "Open the Wombs!": The Symbolic Politics of Modern Ngoni Witchfinding
Mark Auslander
Chapter 9: Black Stomachs, Beautiful Stones: Soul-eating among Hausa in Niger
Pamela G. Schmoll

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