‘I believe in the epistemological value of telling tales…’

otisLaura Otis is an unusual professor and writer. She started out as a scientist and then she crossed over into comparative literature to do her PhD. She has a self-confessed “visceral repulsion” for post-structural theory but she spends her days among literary theorists who feed on this stuff. Otis came to Rhodes to be one of the keynote speakers (the other was postcolonial theorist Robert Young) at the recent AUETSA conference hosted by the English Department. Although she did her undergraduate work in molecular biology and biochemistry, her MA was in neuroscience, and its clear when she talks, that she’s very good at blending and hopping across knowledge systems and using them to generate new kinds of thinking. Continue reading “‘I believe in the epistemological value of telling tales…’”

‘This is not an autobiography’

sketch-for-a-self-analysis“Why have I written and, above all, for whom?” asks Pierre Bourdieu in the conclusion to Sketch for a Self-Analysis, and then answers: “Perhaps to discourage biographies and biographers, while providing, as a kind of professional point of honour, the information that I would have liked to find when I tried to understand the writers or artists of the past…” (page 111).

Yes, me too Pierre, I like to know who’s talking to me from the pages of a book, where they grew up, what school they went to, what kind of family, I particularly like to know the struggles they’ve gone through to work out their ideas. Continue reading “‘This is not an autobiography’”

See Mamdani make theory

For awhile (as part of the Mellon-funded research project into Media and Citizenship) whenever I have to think about citizenship theoretically in an African context I’ve been turning to Mahmood Mamdani’s wonderful book Citizen and Subject.

CitizentorefugeeAfter a year of working on this project (see our blog and my post  Speaking from the South) I’ve read a lot on citizenship, migrancy, refugees, minorities, rights, democratic regimes, etc, and still his voice — among all this wealth of information and theory — is the one that speaks loudest when I have to figure out how to approach what’s going on in South Africa today.

His idea that the colonial-imperial project lives on in the postcolonial African democracies today and gives us “bifurcated” states with two sets of political identity — actual citizenship for an elite and subject positions for all the rest, is a powerful and useful one. Continue reading “See Mamdani make theory”

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