If Stanford University anthropology professor James Ferguson wanted his audience to take away one thing from his lecture late Wednesday evening, it was arguably that South Africa is a complicated place.

In a speech entitled ‘Declarations of Dependence: Labor, Personhood and Welfare,” Ferguson focused on social inequalities concerning income, wealth, education and landholding.

‘We must rethink the grounds for social membership and the meaning of work,” Ferguson said.

The latest speaker in the UR anthropology department’s Lewis Henry Morgan Lecture Series presented his current research before a filled Lander Auditorium. While his work currently focuses primarily on issues in South Africa, it has widespread applications to the rest of the world.

Ferguson noted that he was looking at how social inequalities were institutionalized and why South African workers would sign up en masse to work in miserable conditions, comparing it to how tribes of 19th century Africa would voluntarily surrender to the Nguni tribe, which was considered a brutal, oppressive state.

While Ferguson noted that South Africa is not hopeless, neither is it ‘a new South Africa and where everything is fine.” Welfare programs have failed to catch on, even among the people who need it most.

‘Is it really so hard to convince poor people that the government should give them money?” Ferguson asked.

Ferguson’s presentation went over well with the audience.

‘He has done a very good job in identifying a phenomenon no one really knows about yet large scale, long-term structures of unemployment,” UR anthropology professor Tom Gibson said. ‘In me, it also raises questions about America.”

Sophomore Alysha Edwards, who traveled to Malawi last summer, enjoyed the lecture but said she has a lot more questions.

‘For me it inspired ideas, and I’m hoping that people [who] came to the lecture that perhaps aren’t very familiar with that part of the world will start becoming more familiar with that part of the world,” she said. ‘I don’t think people are aware of what’s really going on.”

The Stanford anthropologist is still performing research for an upcoming book.

Brenneman is a Take Five Scholar.



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