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The Salon

Volume 4, 2011

Democracy as a Community of Life
Achille Mbembe
What might be the conditions of a radical, future-oriented politics in contemporary South Africa? Interrogating the salience of wealth and property, race and difference as central idioms in the framing and naming of ongoing social struggles, Achille Mbembe investigates the possibility of reimagining democracy not only as a form of human mutuality and freedom, but also as a community of life.
Abstract. Flickr: mikebaird
Fanon 50 Years On
Paul Gilroy
Why should we care about humanism: rejected as it has been so virulently in the academy and the media, co-opted into the service of western military secularists, while simultaneously being rendered empty and compromised by UNESCO-style liberalism? In order to achieve what Sylvia Wynter calls "humanism's re-enchantment", Paul Gilroy argues for a return to the non-racial, anti-colonial, and ultimately reparative humanism articulated by Franz Fanon - unfashionable though this may be in many contemporary scholastic circles
The Entrance. Flickr: alphadesigner
Are Trout South African? Or: A Postcolonial Fish?
Duncan Brown
Gazing at a river from the window of his writing retreat, flyrod and flybox to hand, Duncan Brown wonders what fish reveal about the historical borders of indigeneity, about legitimacy in the landscape, about belonging in the postcolony.
Fishing the Lourens. Photo: Courtesy Tracey Brown
Is money the new language of the heart? Lessons from love in Limpopo
Bjarke Oxlund
Much has been written about transactional sex, gender and power in South Africa, while too little has been done to examine the meaning of money and exchange in intimate relations. Bjarke Oxlund argues that there is a lesson to be learned from his ethnographic studies in Limpopo; namely that in true mutuality romance and finance tend to intertwine.
Female members of the University of Limpopo Lovetalk Group (2006). Photo: Courtesy Bjarke Oxlund
The Collector of Art
Cobi Labuscagne
How are lives lived with art? Why do people buy works of art, and what roles do the works play in collectors' lives? What are the relationships between private and public collections with regard to the curatorship of national heritage? Cobi Labuscagne visits private art collectors and their collections in Johannesburg and discovers a network of private activity that may constitute the nation's future archive.
Agapanthus. lambda on metallic paper, 2006 22.5 x 45 cm, edition 5. Flickr: Nathaniel s
Cosmopolitanism from below
Arjun Appadurai
Inspired by the successes of the Alliance of housing activists in Mumbai and their global networks, Arjun Appadurai identifies the existence of 'cosmopolitanism from below'. For the world's urban poor, he suggests, this form of cosmopolitanism, together with the structures of deep democracy and the conditions for developing the capacity to aspire, constitutes the raw materials of a politics of hope.
Dharavi Slum in Mumbai Flickr: Kounosu
Sharing the Pie in TImes of Hunger: a tale from Tana
Lara Allen
Examining the ongoing dispossession of subsistence agriculturalists in the Tana region of Kenya, Lara Allen suggest that radical new legal mechanisms that work outside of capitalist notions of private property are needed to protect such communities from the present onslaught of land- water- and resource-grabs.
Tana Forests. Photo: courtesy Amber Orozco
The Incalculable
Faisal Devji
The most revolutionary aspect of the current wave of revolutions in the Middle East is the absence of traditional revolutionary politics. If the future is to be at all calculable, argues Faisal Devji, it is necessary to look beyond violence, militancy and all inherited forms of politics: the limits of these mechanisms have been exposed by the 'Arab spring'.
Protest on Tahrir Flickr: Floris Van Cauwelaert
A View of North Africa from South America
Cristina Cielo
Popular uprisings in the Middle East over the last months have transformed the political landscapes and possibilities of the region's diverse nations. The hope engendered by popular uprisings against long-term dictators has darkened as repression and violence has continued in the region. Uruguayan intellectual and journalist Raul Zibechi gives us a South American perspective of the momentous changes taking place in North Africa.
Cairo, 2011, murals. Flickr: Mejuan
Evertything Solid Melts into the Street
Raul Zibechi
The hunger riots that have shaken the Arab world are only the first waves in the great social tsunami engendered among the poorest peoples of the planet. The phenomenal increase in the price of foods (corn 58%, wheat 62%, over the course of a year) is the fuse that sparks the eruptions.
Egypt January-25 Revolution Flickr: Colorznshapes
The Arab Revolts and Strategic Thinking
Raul Zibechi
The first North African rebellions in Tunisia and Egypt, and the later ones that have swelled up in other countries of the region, point to a systemic change in international relations. This change can be summed up as the dismantling of the role of the United States, and its allies, in the Middle East.
She Guevara. Flickr: Khalid Albaih
The Revolutions by Ordinary People
Raul Zibechi
In the most diverse corners of the planet, ordinary people are coming out onto the streets, occupying plazas, meeting up with other ordinary people who they did not know but who they immediately recognize. None of them waited to be convened, they were driven by the need to discover themselves.
Libya. A woman holds a Kingdom of Libya flag during Friday prayers in a street in Benghazi March 4, 2011. Flickr: B.R.Q.
This Is No Time To Be Given To Distraction
Raul Zibechi
With the Arab revolts, the global systemic crisis enters a new phase, more unpredictable and increasingly beyond control. Until now, the main actors have been the financial oligarchs, the powerful multinationals and the leading governments, particularly the United States and China, followed at some distance by institutions such as the G-20.
Streets of Cairo (inverted flag). Databent image of protests in Tahrir Square that came out, totally by chance, looking like an inverted Egyptian flag. Flickr: Splicegraph
Filip de Boeck
The covert violence, the risk, the uncertainty and the possibility of daily life in Kinshasa resides in the gap between official visions and unofficial reality. Using two cases in which water is being turned into land, Filip De Boeck reveals the need to envision a 'near future' that hyphenates dream and reality; a plan predicated on incremental transformation rather than destructive, radical, exclusionary change.
5 Chantiers en marche! Photo: Courtesy Filip De Boeck
Why Zanzibar Reeks
Elizabeth Godfrey
You can look away, but you can't ignore the smell. Or can you? Elizabeth Godfrey explores the complexities of waste in Zanzibar, and the (non)relationships such waste reveals.
Unguja Morning Scene. Courtesy: Elizabeth Godfrey
The Miraculous Life
Brian Goldstone
An encounter with charismatic Christianity in Ghana produces in Brian Goldstone a shock of the unrecognizable and unassimilable. Faced with a passionate and embodied understanding of the miraculous not as an exceptional interruption, but as the intensification of ordinary quotidian existence, Goldstone is called to think beyond the exegetical tools of his intellectual tradition.
Forest prayer. Photo: Courtesy Brian Goldstone
Nostalgia for the Future: Togo After the Cold War
Charles Piot
The death in 2005 of Togo's long time dictator both symbolised and facilitated the death of traditional culture and related power structures. In its place, argues Charles Piot, two new sovereigns have assumed control over the country's social, economic and biopolitical spheres: Pentecostal churches and neoliberal NGOs.
Photo: courtesy Charles Piot
In Search of the Border
Jo Ractliffe
There are many myths about what is known to white South Africans as the 'Border War'. Fought primarily in Namibia and Angola from the mid-1960s to the late 1980s, it engaged a series of conflicts that merged into one of the most complex and protracted wars ever fought in Africa.
Roadside stall on the way to Viana, 2007