Civil Society and the Political Imagination in Africa

Critical Perspectives

Publication Date: 01/01/2001

Journal: American Journal of Sociology

Reissue Date:

Volume: 106

Edition: 41

Editors: Alcinda Honwana and Flip de Boeck

Publisher City: Oxford

This essay explores the diverse, unexpected, and controversial ways in which the idea of civil society has recently entered into populist politics and public debate throughout Africa. It offers a critical theoretical analysis of the nature and deployment of the concept—and the current debates surrounding it across the continent. Drawing on the comparative literature in the subject, John and Jean Comaroff examine the impact of colonial ideology, postcoloniality, and development practice on discourses of civility, the workings of everyday politics, the construction of new modes of selfhood, and the pursuit of moral community. They argue that struggles over civil society in Africa reveal much about larger historical forces in the post-Cold War era, making a strong case for the contribution of historical anthropology to contemporary discourses on the rise of a “new world order.”

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