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The Truth about Crime

Sovereignty, Knowledge, Social Order

In this book, renowned anthropologists Jean and John L. Comaroff make a startling but absolutely convincing claim about our modern era: it is not by our arts, our politics, or our science that we understand ourselves—it is by our crimes. Surveying an astonishing range of forms of crime and policing—from petty thefts to the multibillion-dollar scams of too-big-to-fail financial institutions to the collateral damage of war—they take readers into the disorder of the late modern world. Looking at recent transformations in the triangulation of capital, the state, and governance that have led to an era where crime and policing are ever more complicit, they offer a powerful meditation on the new forms of sovereignty, citizenship, class, race, law, and political economy of representation that have arisen.
To do so, the Comaroffs draw on their vast knowledge of South Africa, especially, and its struggle to build a democracy founded on the rule of law out of the wreckage of long years of violence and oppression. There they explore everything from the fascination with the supernatural in policing to the extreme measures people take to prevent home invasion, drawing illuminating comparisons to the United States and United Kingdom. Going beyond South Africa, they offer a global criminal anthropology that attests to criminality as the constitutive fact of contemporary life, the vernacular by which politics are conducted, moral panics voiced, and populations ruled.  
The result is a disturbing but necessary portrait of the modern era, one that asks critical new questions about how we see ourselves, how we think about morality, and how we are going to proceed as a global society.

336 pages | 4 halftones | 6 x 9 | © 2016

African Studies

Anthropology: Cultural and Social Anthropology



The Truth about Crime is replete with original insights. Reflecting on the disproportionate relationship between fear and actual danger in a number of major countries, Jean and John Comaroff explain why criminality, although far from matching many other potential sources of public peril, elicits much more civic outrage. We learn how changes in the meaning of criminality and the nature of crime-and-policing are associated with the recent shift in the relationship between capital, governance, and the state. We also learn how these developments in both the United States and the Republic of South Africa have resulted in steps taken to discipline or control certain groups defined or viewed as threatening. This is a compelling book, a must-read for scholars and laypersons alike.”

William Julius Wilson, author of The Truly Disadvantaged

“The Comaroffs’ constant articulation of sparkling ethnographic vignettes, rich statistical data, and highly imaginative insights makes for a truly effervescent argumentation, creative and, at the same time, thoroughly documented. With this combination they offer a powerful book that newly addresses a theme that is becoming central all over the world: our increasing obsession with (in)security.”

Peter Geschiere, author of Witchcraft, Intimacy, and Trust

"What is 'crime'? A social pathology? A violation of social order? The object or raison d’etre of law enforcement? …Jean Comaroff and John Comaroff unpack the place of crime in postcolonial, neoliberalized South Africa and beyond… Their argument is that the impact of postcolonial neoliberalism in South Africa, and similar shifts in ideas of citizenship and forms and practices of state sovereignty elsewhere, have led to crime taking on a position of heightened prominence in the social imaginary, serving as a symbol and symptom, cause and consequence of the breakdown in social order.”

Allegra Lab

"The Truth About Crime [is] a useful book for anyone examining the relationship between the state and the citizenry and how the citizenry responds in the fields of political science, criminology, anthropology and sociology."

African Studies Quarterly

Table of Contents


Part 1   Crime, Capital, and the Metaphysics of Disorder: An Overview, in Three Movements
1.1       Crime, Policing, and the Making of Modernity: The State, Sovereignty, and the Il/legal
1.2       The Order of Things to Come: Crime-and-Policing in the Present Continuous
1.3       Forensic Fantasy and the Political Economy of Representation: Scenes from the Brave Noir World

Part 2   Law-Making, Law-Breaking, and Law-Enforcement: Five Uneasy Pieces
2.1       Divine Detection: Policing at the Edge
2.2       Imposture, Law, and the Policing of Personhood: The Return of Khulekani Khumalo, Zombie Captive
2.3       Figuring Crime: Quantifacts, Mythostats, and the Production of the Un/real
2.4       Outsourcing Justice, Privatizing Protection: Practices of Popular Sovereignty
2.5       Sharp Endings: A Pointed Afterimage


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