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Nostalgia for the Future

West Africa after the Cold War

Since the end of the cold war, Africa has seen a dramatic rise in new political and religious phenomena, including an eviscerated privatized state, neoliberal NGOs, Pentecostalism, a resurgence in accusations of witchcraft, a culture of scamming and fraud, and, in some countries, a nearly universal wish to emigrate. Drawing on fieldwork in Togo, Charles Piot suggests that a new biopolitics after state sovereignty is remaking the face of one of the world’s poorest regions.

In a country where playing the U.S. Department of State’s green card lottery is a national pastime and the preponderance of cybercafés and Western Union branches signals a widespread desire to connect to the rest of the world, Nostalgia for the Future makes clear that the cultural and political terrain that underlies postcolonial theory has shifted. In order to map out this new terrain, Piot enters into critical dialogue with a host of important theorists, including Agamben, Hardt and Negri, Deleuze, and Mbembe. The result is a deft interweaving of rich observations of Togolese life with profound insights into the new, globalized world in which that life takes place.

216 pages | 16 halftones | 6 x 9 | © 2010

African Studies

Anthropology: Cultural and Social Anthropology


Nostalgia for the Future is an invaluable addition to the relatively small body of literature on Togo and a provocative contribution to the on-going debate about how best to do ethnography in a complex, globalising world. As a sophisticated attempt to move beyond post-colonial frameworks of analysis that no longer quite capture the peculiarities of the present moment, it deserves to be taken seriously.” 

Joe Philp | Journal of Modern African Studies

“The book impresses with its well-researched theoretical framework, its strong anthropological base, its ethnography and documentation of the activities and politics of the charismatic churches, the crisis of subsistence and the impact of NGOs, and the most appealing of all the survival strategies: the lotto visa. This well-written book contains good illustrations that help readers contextualize the stories.”


“This book is not merely bold and timely; it brims with imagination and insight. Charles Piot makes the vibrant cultural politics of contemporary West Africa speak directly to key questions of our late modern world. In his hands, tireless Togolese efforts to escape an inauspicious past yield new theoretical possibilities for a generation of social scientists, themselves nostalgic for an era of more confident understanding.”

Jean Comaroff, University of Chicago

“In this vivid book, Charles Piot juxtaposes novel and unexpected trends that emerged in Togo—and elsewhere in West Africa—in the 1990s to convincingly argue that, in many respects, the post–cold war moment marks a dramatic break from the preceding decades and their postcolonial framework. The book shows with some urgency that this incisive rupture requires new theoretical points of departure, and thus will have a major, innovative impact in African studies and anthropology in general.”--Peter Geschiere, University of Amsterdam

Peter Geschiere

“What Piot’s text best captures is the double edge of post-imperial predicament, where freedom and abjection go hand in hand. Intimately understood by Piot and his interlocutors, the contradictions of this post-postcolonial era surely merit further articulation. If not yet fully achieved, their specification by Piot in the case of Togo lays the foundation for ethnographically informed refinement of prevailing theorizations of imperial expansion and decline, old and new.”   

Brenda Chalfin | Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute

Table of Contents



One / States of Emergency

Two / The End of History

Three / Exit Strategy

Mise En Scène

Four / Charismatic Enchantments

Five / Arrested Development

Six / The Death of a Culture





African Politics Conference Group/London School of Economics and Political Science: Best Book on African Politics

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