20 June 2009

Anthropology, sex and South Africa

As another note on South Africa and rape: (See http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/africa/8107039.stm )

It occurs to me as I was trying to get onto other tasks in house and garden this Saturday morning, that South and southern Africa has had an extremely disproportionate role in the history of anthropology. I am referring in particular to Malinowski, Radcliffe-Brown and Max Gluckman.

[And thus not to the American tradition or the French, but to what was called 'British Social Anthropology'] And that this was particularly true of anthropology's efforts to deal with and to understand sex, kinship and conflict in particular.

Many, if not most [?] of Malinowski's most important students were South African; Malinowski had especially close relations with his South African students, too, although he did not work here. Malinowski did, however, have a long and very influential relationship with the kind of Swaziland, Sobhuza II, and helped Sobhuza formulate policy that resulted in Swaziland remaining the only relatively absolute monarchy in the world today. (Kenyatta, another of his students, was headed in the same direction in Kenya, but was diverted ...) Radcliffe-Brown began his career in South Africa and wrote one of his most influential pieces on 'The Mother's Brother' about what--it now seems to me--was the fact of the extreme fluidity and even strangeness of South African kinship systems. Max Gluckman's anthropology, and the basis of the Manchester School, came from South Africa. I think it would be fair to say, even, that Gluckman's anthropology was based precisely on his South African-ness, and that the Manchester School (including some of its most influential members from Victor Turner to John and jean Comaroff, who are, in any case, South African) was more or less South African anthropology written into global/British anthropology. This is particularly true of the his interest in the fundamental role of conflict in social functioning, and of the 'peace within the feud', among much else. One of his most influential writing, too, was about the Swazi incwala, effectively a rite of masculinity in the person of the [Swazi] king in particular and the role of women as wives, mothers, and witches in it.

Thus the anthropology of rape in southern Africa is a peculiarly anthropological problem, but one that has not been adequately theorised in South African anthropology, even though so much of the anthropological study of conflict and sex/uality owe so much to the southern African experience, ethnography and people.

Interesting? Well it seemed so to me. Where does this take us with rape?

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