Peter Geschiere

Emeritus professor of Anthropology of Africa; University of Amsterdam; Leiden University

Together [John Comaroff] with his wife Jean, served as guides into a new, global anthropology; that is, an anthropology that retains the classic assets of the discipline — fieldwork, micro ethnography, a focus on the articulation of material circumstances with cultural life — but re-interprets these to remain relevant in a world that is rapid globalizing. A milestone in this respect was their two volumes Of Revelation and Revolution, in which they brought together detailed research on the history of the Tswana peoples of southern Africa with equally detailed research on the history of the British mission that was to play such a big role in the region. Of particular interest was the way in which the Comaroffs highlighted not just the contrast between these two histories, but also their convergences and mutual articulations. A more recent example of the theoretical creativity that makes their work so inspiring is Theories from the South; Or, How Euro-America is Evolving toward Africa which made them forerunners in the present-day debate on ‘decolonizing’ anthropology. But their innovating impact in anthropology worldwide is not only related to the force and the inspirational quality of their publications. They have hosted many conferences and workshops where their brilliant debating style has helped participants open up new perspectives and try out new approaches. These qualities have also made them also exceptionally successful Ph.D. supervisors. I have also learned much from them in this respect: how to challenge students to ever deeper analytical efforts, but balancing this with deep personal involvement. No wonder that both in Chicago and at Harvard they attracted students from all over the world. The global span of their Nachwuchs guarantees that their work will continue to have an impact on anthropology long into the future as well.