Accidental Histories, Post-Historical Practice?: Re-reading Body of Power, Spirit of Resistance in the Actuarial Age
- Anthropological Quarterly
- George Washington University Institute for Ethnographic Research
- Volume 83, Number 3, Summer 2010
- pp. 581-624
- Additional Information
To read and reread Jean Comaroff's Body of Power, Spirit of Resistance today, more than two decades after its publication, is to be reminded of what historical anthropology can be, and to confront what it seems no longer capable of being. In this essay, I return to Comaroff's explicit analysis of the conjuncture of blood and money, and the less theorized figures of the car as the sign of foreign economic power in order to think again about the relationship between apartheid's economic history and postapartheid social forms. Exploring automobility as the condition of possibility for the peasant proletariat, I examine the doubled structure of fear and desire that has come to inhere in the figure of the car and the value of speed with which it is always associated—a value that functions both as the index of sovereignty and as the engine of its encompassment by global capitalism. South Africa's posthistorical predicament, like that which preceded it, remains deeply racialized. Today, however, the interpellation of subjects often takes place through private institutions, which operate in the space between accident and contingency, through the management of fear and the calculation of risk. These forces were shrewdly intuited in Comaroff's perspicacious analysis, long before speed acquired its autonomy and actuaralization had assumed its place as the dominant science of the new govenmentality.