The Politics of Custom

Chiefship, capital, and the state in contemporary Africa
Editor(s): ,
  • Publication Date: July 2018
  • Dimensions and Pages: 229 x 152mm; 368pp
  • Paperback EAN: 978-1-77614-320-7
  • Rights: Africa
  • Recommended Price (ZAR): 380

These compelling and wide-ranging studies explore the staying power and apparently
counter-intuitive resurgence of chiefship in Africa … Chiefs have clout because their role draws
on sources of sovereignty that go beyond the conventional realm of politics to encompass
kinship networks, ritual, business, and the global economy. This book shines new light on the
interplay of tradition and modernity, showing that chiefship is neither wholly of the state nor
of the customary, but always entangled with both.
— Deborah James, London School of Economics

How are we to explain the resurgence of customary chiefs in contemporary Africa? Rather than disappearing with the tide of modernity, as many expected, indigenous sovereigns are instead a rising force, often wielding substantial power and legitimacy despite major changes in the workings of the global political economy in the post-Cold War era – changes in which they are themselves deeply implicated.

This pathbreaking volume, edited by anthropologists John L. Comaroff and Jean Comaroff, explores the reasons behind the increasingly assertive politics of custom in many corners of Africa. Chiefs come in countless guises – from university professors through cosmopolitan businessmen to subsistence farmers – but, whatever else they do, they are a critical key to understanding the tenacious hold that ‘traditional’ authority enjoys in the late modern world. Together the contributors explore this counterintuitive chapter in Africa’s history and, in so doing, place it within the broader world-making processes of the twenty-first century.

Editorial Note
Chapter 1: Chiefs, Capital, and the State in Contemporary Africa: An Introduction John and Jean Comaroff
Chapter 2: African Chiefs and the Post–Cold War Moment: Millennial Capitalism and the Struggle over Moral Authority Peter Geschiere
Chapter 3: Chieftaincy, Land, and the State in Ghana and South Africa Sara Berry
Chapter 4: The Salience of Chiefs in Postapartheid South Africa: Reflections on the Nhlapo Commission Mbongiseni Buthelezi and Dineo Skosana
Chapter 5: The Politics of States and Chiefs in Zimbabwe Jocelyn Alexander
Chapter 6: Paramount Chiefs, Land, and Local-National Politics in Sierra Leone Mariane Ferme
Chapter 7: Republic of Kings: Neotraditionalism, Aristocratic Ethos, and Authoritarianism in Burkina Faso Benoît Beucher
Chapter 8: Corporate Kings and South Africa’s Traditional-Industrial Complex Susan Cook
Chapter 9: The Currency of Chieftaincy: Corporate Branding and the Commodification of Political Authority in Ghana Lauren Adrover
Chapter 10: Fallen Chiefs and Sacrificial Mining in Ghana Lauren Coyle
Chapter 11: Colonizing Banro: Kingship, Temporality, and Mining of Futures in the Goldfields of South Kivu, DRC James Smith
Chapter 12: Third Contact: Invisibility and Recognition of the Customary in Northern Mozambique Juan Obarrio
Acknowledgments
Contributors
Index

John L. Comaroff is the Harold W. Swift Distinguished Service Professor of Anthropology at the University of Chicago and a Research Professor at the American Bar Foundation.
Jean Comaroff is the Alfred North Whitehead Professor of African and African American Studies at Harvard University.

These compelling and wide-ranging studies explore the staying power and apparently
counter-intuitive resurgence of chiefship in Africa … Chiefs have clout because their role draws
on sources of sovereignty that go beyond the conventional realm of politics to encompass
kinship networks, ritual, business, and the global economy. This book shines new light on the
interplay of tradition and modernity, showing that chiefship is neither wholly of the state nor
of the customary, but always entangled with both.
— Deborah James, London School of Economics

The Politics of Custom is an incisive and original investigation of the stubbornly persistent
role played by traditional authorities in modern Africa. Featuring a stellar cast of contributors
and a superb synthetic introduction by the editors, this book is a major contribution that will
appeal to a broad audience.
— James Ferguson, Stanford University

These essays surprise at every turn through their insistence that African chiefs do not merely
survive today but are also thoroughly modern and global – savvy operators who strike deals
with NGOs and capitalist corporations, entrepreneurs who raise money overseas, and rural
sovereigns who marshal votes for national elections. Framed by a magisterial introduction
by John L. and Jean Comaroff, the book provides a capacious view of a roiling political fi eld in
which neoliberal governance is enabling twenty-first-century African chiefs to usurp the role
of the state that once brought them into being.
— Charles Piot, Duke University

Related titles

Leave a Reply