Civil Society and the Political Imagination in Africa
Civil Society and the Political Imagination in Africa sets out to show that civil society is an inherently protean phenomenon: that it is, simultaneously, one thing and many, absolute and refractory, actual and chimerical, a big Idea and an ill-defined popular aspiration. Therein, the Comaroffs argue, has lain its potency, past and present, as both a call-to-arms and an analytic construct; its very plasticity allows an ostensibly universal term, European in origin, to take on distinctive forms at quite different times in quite different places. And to become the subject of distinctly local struggles–especially at moments of existential, epistemic, political crisis. The essays in this volume attest, in vividly rich detail, to the diverse and unexpected deployment of the concept in, and in respect of, Africa. Their concerns range from the impact of colonial ideology and development practice on discourses of civility, through populist movements for reform of the public sphere and the substance of politics, to everyday attempts to conjure up new modes of selfhood and moral community. Together, they compose an incisive interrogation of the paradoxes and problems, the possibilities and impossibilities, raised by the invocation of the term in its many and various guises both here and elsewhere. As it turns out, the circulation of the Idea of Civil Society across Africa in recent times reveals a great deal about larger historical forces; in particular, about the radical reconfiguration of economy and society, and of the nation-state, in the post-cold war epoch. These essays also make a strong case for the contribution of historical anthropology, boldly and broadly conceived, to transdisciplinary discourses on the making of the so-called “new” world order.