Jean Comaroff to deliver annual Ryerson Lecture

Steve Koppes
Associate News DirectorUniversity Communications

Jean Comaroff, an anthropologist who is a leading expert on South Africa, its societies and cultures, will give the 2011 Nora and Edward Ryerson Lecture at 5 p.m., Tuesday, May 17, at the Max Palevsky Cinema in Ida Noyes Hall.

Comaroff, the Bernard E. and Ellen C. Sunny Distinguished Service Professor in Anthropology and the College, will present the talk, “Divine Detection: Crime and the Metaphysics of Disorder.”

“Conceptions of crime are inseparable from conceptions of truth,” she said in discussing the upcoming lecture. “They are integral, too, to modern modes of producing knowledge—and to the very idea of society as a normative order.”

Her talk will examine what happens when these modes of producing knowledge are called into question, as they are in many post-colonial societies where criminality is said to be “out of control.”

The lecture, she added, would be an exercise in “criminal anthropology,” exploring the metaphysics of disorder in the popular culture of contemporary South Africa, and elsewhere.

Comaroff, who grew up in South Africa, has done extensive fieldwork there and in Botswana. She and her husband John, the Harold H. Swift Distinguished Service Professor in Anthropology and the College, are the co-authors of several volumes, including Of Revelation and Revolution: Christianity, Colonialism and Consciousness in South Africa, Vol. 1 (University of Chicago Press, 1991), which won the Gordon J. Laing Prize from the University of Chicago Press in 1993, and The Dialectics of Modernity on a South African Frontier, Vol. 2 (1997). Jean Comaroff is also the author of Body of Power, Spirit of Resistance: The Culture and History of a South African People (University of Chicago Press, 1985).

The Ryerson Lectures grew out of a 1972 bequest to the University by Nora and Edward L. Ryerson, a former chairman of the University Board of Trustees. Ryerson then noted that the lecture should honor excellence in academic pursuits and the “high aspirations we hold for ourselves as a community of scholars.”

The faculty selects each Ryerson lecturer based on a consensus that a particular scholar has made research contributions of lasting significance. In return, the Ryerson lecturer is asked to reflect on his or her intellectual life and work.