Annotation: Comaroffs .1987. The madman and the migrant

Using the rhetoric of contrast, and using the imagery of two informants (the madman and the migrant) to explore Marxian historical consciousness and the anthropological concept of culture, the authors argue that first, “culture always intervenes directly in consciousness and its expression” (205). For example, how the Tshidi of South Africa contrast the concepts of tiro (a kind of labor that yields produce, social relations, etc) and berekaly (labor for the whites; wage labor) was not merely a function of industrial capitalism, but was a product of the “dynamic interplay between its cultural forms and of those of the precolonial order.” This bring the authors to the second point: that “culture and consciousness are not the same thing, and cannot be reduced to one another.” Perhaps social scientists from both Weberian and Marxian traditions had been looking at the “collective expressions of collective consciousness… in the wrong place” (192) because it may instead be found in “everyday acts of resistance to the labor discipline…”, of mines, for instance. The madman, whom the authors met in a wordless encounter in 1973 at a mental hospital, is a powerful example that the authors use. The madman, they write, is delusional only in the Western sense, but is seen by many as a moprofeta in postcolonial Africa. Despite freed from tiro, the madman uses visual imagery to display elements in the contradictory world in which Africans live: he still wears his miner’s boots; the letters SAR (railway) stands for the interdependence of the center and periphery; the strips of cowhide that he wears is a symbol of healing and protection. The migrant, meanwhile, uses the same categories that refer to contrasts and tensions between “here” and “there”, and “inside and “out” , “work” and “labor” (204). These two examples are among the many “poetics of contrast” that have entered into the historical process of South Africa.


A video with translation of a South African folk song about working in the mines, a bereka.

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