Call for abstracts:

Lessons from Archie Mafeje for Contemporary Anthropology: A symposium

The Archie Mafeje Chair in Critical and Decolonial Humanities at the University of Cape Town, and the Anthropology Southern Africa Journal, have the pleasure to invite submissions for presentations at a symposium on the theme of ‘Lessons from Archie Mafeje for Contemporary Anthropology’, to be held at the University of Cape Town on Thursday the 20th and Friday the 21st of June, 2019. Following the symposium, we invite full papers to be submitted toward a special issue in the Anthropology Southern Africa Journal, to be published in March 2020.

The legacy of Archie Mafeje is well-known in Southern African social science, and of late there is an emerging body of work that critically situates Mafeje as a figure within the knowledge politics of apartheid and beyond. Less work has been done, however, by anthropologists seriously engaging with Mafeje as an anthropological theorist. Mafeje has been highly critical of anthropology, yet paradoxically claimed it as his discipline of choice in the production of knowledge. We suggest that the paradox is suggestive and very provocative for the discipline. In this symposium, we aim to think together about the provocations to anthropology that exist in Mafeje’s corpus of work, and how those provocations – methodological, ethnographic, political – can be brought to bear on present day anthropological scholarship.

We seek particularly presentations that address the following set of questions:

  • Theoretical interventions: What do we see as the key provocations of Mafeje to anthropology? How might we work with those provocations today?
  • Methodological interventions: what did Mafeje understand by ethnography? How might we apply his notions of the ethnographic project to contemporary work?
  • Intellectual interventions: What can we learn from Mafeje’s work on the ways in which intellectual ideas were formed and travelled at the time? The influence of scholars such as Monica Wilson on Mafeje’s early writings is fairly clear and well-known, but what other influences, from inside and outside of the academy, can we see? How might an exploration of these alternative intellectual histories tell us something different to conventional histories of anthropological thought in Southern Africa?
  • Conceptual interventions: Mafeje has critiqued the understanding of the relationship between rural/urban economies propagated in 1970s South Africa by authors such as Wolpe and Legassick. Can we read ‘classic’ ethnographies differently if we take Mafeje’s reading of the rural seriously?

While we seek to fund successful participants for either their travel or accommodations costs (not both), there is a limited amount of funding available. Preference will be given to those scholars whose papers directly address the key issues outlined above. We particularly encourage young black emergent scholars to present papers.

Timeline and Submission Guidelines:

  • Please send abstracts to and by 31 March 2019.
  • Notification of acceptance: by 15 April 2019
  • Submission of draft presentation by May 31 2019 (papers can be rough as the aim is to discuss ideas during the symposium, and to re-shape papers accordingly afterwards)
  • Submission of full paper for the special issue of Anthropology Southern Africa: 15 October 2019
  • Reviewer feedback 10 December 2019
  • Revised papers due 10 January 2020
  • Publication of peer-reviewed and accepted papers: Vol 43, Issue 1 (March 2020)