African Encounters with Domesticity

By Karen Tranberg Hansen | Go to book overview

depended; in its routines and conventions were vested the signs and practices on which was based the social order tout court. At the dawn of modernity in Europe, moreover, the nuclear family was becoming the point of articulation between civil society and the (ostensibly) free individual, the ideological atom upon which bourgeois economy and society depended.

In seeking to recast Africa domesticity in the same mold, then, colonial evangelists hoped to bring about a New Society, a New Civility. Ironically, as creatures of their time, they took for granted what it was to take social scientists many decades to learn: that existing forms of domesticity and the dominant social order in which they are embedded depend, for their construction and reproduction, on one another. Hegemony is indeed homemade.


Acknowledgments

We should like to thank the Spencer Foundation, the American Bar Foundation, and the Lichtstern Fund of the University of Chicago for their generous support of our research and writing. Note that all primary materials used here are annotated in footnotes; references to secondary writings are cited by author and year in the text, and annotated fully in the bibliography. Archival documents are cited by author, place of writing, date, and storage classification. CWM is the Council of World Mission, whose papers (including the records of the London Missionary Society [LMS]) are housed at the School of Oriental and African Studies, London. WMMS refers to the (Wesleyan) Methodist Missionary Society. A longer and slightly amended version of this essay is to be found in J. and J. L. Comaroff, Ethnography and the Historical Imagination: Selected Essays ( Boulder, Colo. Westview Press, 1992).


Notes
1.
See Gallagher ( 1985:122-123) for examples.
2.
We have published several accounts of these systems in the nineteenth century: see, e.g., J. Comaroff ( 1985), J. L. Comaroff ( 1982; 1987), Comaroff and Comaroff ( 1991). Since pressures of space do not allow us to detail our sources here, we rely on those writings--which are very fully annotated--as colateral evidence.
3.
A "house," in standard anthropological usage, consists of a married woman and her own children (as the latter are indigenously defined).
4.
Some passages of this section are drawn, in amended form, from our Of Revelation and Revolution, Vol. 2 (n.d.); see also Comaroff and Comaroff ( 1989).

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