Denaturalizing Dispossession: Critical Ethnography in the Age of Resurgent Imperialism

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Abstract

Critical ethnographies and methods of relational comparison provide tools for reconfiguring area studies to challenge imperial visions of the world; for illuminating power-laden processes of constitution, connection, and disconnection; and for identifying slippages, openings, contradictions, and possibilities for alliances. Crucial to this project are Lefebvrian conceptions of the production of space. In developing these arguments, this essay also intervenes in recent discussions of so-called “primitive accumulation” as an ongoing process. It does so by drawing on research into connections between South Africa and East Asia, and using these relational comparisons to highlight the significance of specifically racialized forms of dispossession and their salience to struggles currently underway in South Africa. These examples underscore how critical ethnography and relational comparison provide a crucial means for “advancing to the concrete”—in the sense of concrete concepts that are adequate to the complexity with which they are seeking to grapple.

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