The Politics of Evil: Magic, State Power and the Political Imagination in South Africa

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South Africa historian Clifton Crais combines a cultural history of state formation with an analysis of African conceptions of power and the moral problem of evil. He explores the role of ideas held by Africans and Europeans in shaping political society throughout South Africa's history. He demonstrates how Africans contested one of the great evils of the twentieth century: apartheid. Crais discusses colonialism, resistance, nationalism, violence, and the challenges to creating democracy.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"The Politics of Evil is a pathbreaking book, sure to generate discussion among historians of South Africa." History: Reviews of New Books

"This innovative new book broadens South African political history in vital ways by allowing historical African ideas and practices to help determine what constitutes politics. The result is a vivid exploration of the cross-cultural production of an authoritarian colonial order. The value of The Politics of Evil lies in the [Clifton Crais's] determination to ground this rich political imagination in the dynamism of material life. Meticulously researched, convincingly argued, and engagingly written, The Politics of Evil will, no doubt, stand as a landmark study in South African history and the history of colonial politics more broadly." Julie Livingston, Rutgers University

"[T]his is a compelling meditation on several of the key forces that shaped the history of South Africa's Eastern Cape—the Ciskei and the Transkei.... Highly recommended." Choice

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780521817219
  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press
  • Publication date: 11/18/2002
  • Series: African Studies Series , #103
  • Pages: 297
  • Product dimensions: 5.98 (w) x 8.98 (h) x 1.06 (d)

Meet the Author

Clifton Crais is Professor of History and Director of the Institute of African Studies at Emory University. He is author of over one hundred works, including Poverty, War, and Violence in South Africa(Cambridge University Press, 2011); Sara Baartman and the Hottentot Venus: A Ghost Story and a Biography (2008) - on the woman more famously known as the 'Hottentot Venus' and the subject of a feature film, 'Venus Noire' - and White Supremacy and Black Resistance in Pre-Industrial South Africa: The Making of the Colonial Order in the Eastern Cape, 1770–1865 (Cambridge University Press, 1992). He is also editor of The Culture of Power in Southern Africa: Essays on State Formation and the Political Imagination (2003), co-editor of Breaking the Chains: Slavery and its Legacy in Nineteenth-Century South Africa (1995) and Area Editor of the Encyclopedia of World History (8 volumes, 2008). Crais is nearing completion of History Lessons, a work that combines memoir, historiography and the neuroscience of memory, and a documentary history of South Africa. Long-range works include a history of violence and explorations of fiction and creative non-fiction concerning memory and narrative.

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Table of Contents

Introduction; Part I. Cultures of Conquest: 1. The death of hope; 2. Ethnographies of state; 3. Rationalities and rule; Part II. States of Emergency: 4. Prophecies of nation; 5. Government acts; 6. Conflict in Qumbu; 7. The men of the mountain; 8. Flights of the lightning bird; Conclusion; Notes; Bibliography; Index.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 3, 2002

    A new kind of history

    Crais forays past the power binaries which bind social and political histories of southern Africa with this groundbreaking examination of how centuries of dramatic historical change have manifested themselves in places more deeply significant than any geographical location - the minds of those who experienced it. In a bold work which resists being shrugged off as either a kind of social psychoanalysis or a philosophical wandering between syncreticism and morality, Crais narrows in on how black South Africans have translated the tumult of colonization, industrialization, apartheid and poverty into the language of evil. Tracing over time the intimate relationship of kings to power over magic, the working adaptation of indigenous philosophies of the origins and character of evil into Christian churches, and the contemporary and very real presence of witchcraft, Crais posits that how South Africans have understood and lashed out against the intense presence of evil in their lives, be it crushing inequality or AIDS, has shaped their remembering of history. And as this fledgling democracy concretizes into a modern, Western-modeled nation, Crais daringly warns the ruling powers against the perils of ignoring those potent social forces which begin in consciousnesses but maneuver tangibly within local economies, communities, faiths and families. Comprehensive yet meticulous, Crais¿s elegantly crafted writing walks the reader through a personal experience of South Africa¿s turbulent past, introducing how this at times gruesome history may have played out not just on one tip of the global stage but inside the minds of its victims and warriors.

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