Dialectical Systems, History and Anthropology

Units of Study and Questions of Theory

Publication Date:

Journal: Journal of Southern African Studies

Reissue Date:

Page start: 143

Page End: 172

Volume: 2

Edition: 8

Ever since the publication of Maitland’s famed dictum that anthropology must become history or be nothing a gradually burgeoning literature has called for convergence between the two. But that call typically begs the fundamental question, ‘Which anthropology, what history?’ As a result, the point is often lost that any substantive relationship between disciplines is determined not by the intrinsic nature of those disciplines if any such thing exists but by prior theoretical considerations. It would seem obvious, for example, that historical analysis assumes different significance for structural functionalism than it does for either Marxist or structuralist approaches. In this essay, Comaroff develops a dialectical approach to the analysis of African social systems, based on a detailed account of Southern Tswana economy, politics, and society, an approach that explains both the endogenous historicity of such systems and their complex engagement with colonialism.

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