John Comaroff

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search

John Comaroff
Born (1945-01-01) January 1, 1945 (age 76)
Alma materUniversity of Cape Town
London School of Economics
Scientific career
InstitutionsHarvard University
Doctoral advisorIsaac Schapera

John L. Comaroff (born 1 January 1945)[1] is Professor of African and African American Studies and of Anthropology, Oppenheimer Fellow in African Studies at Harvard University. He is also Research Professor at the American Bar Foundation. He is recognised for his study of African and African-American society. Comaroff and his wife, anthropologist Jean Comaroff, have collaborated on publications examining post-colonialism and the Tswana people of South Africa. He has written several texts describing his research, and has presented peer-reviewed anthropological theories of African cultures that have relevance to understanding global society. Comaroff was placed on leave from his position at Harvard in August 2020 following allegations of sexual harassment. [2]

Early life and education[edit]

John Lionel Comaroff was born 1 January 1945 in Cape Town, South Africa the only child of Jane Miller Comaroff and Louis (better known as Lionel) Comaroff. His father's family was either from Ukraine or Belarus. His grandfather migrated in the early 1890s from Ukraine or Belarus first to Germany (Kimmerhauft) to escape conscription into the Russian army and discrimination against Jews, and later to Birmingham, England. His father, Louis, was born in Rhodesia. Comaroff's mother's family also migrated to South Africa from Lithuania in the early 1900s. Jane and Louis met during WWII in Cape Town.

Comaroff was the first person in his family to attend University. He attended the University of Cape Town, where he developed his interest in anthropology. In his second year at the University, he met classmate and future wife, Jean, They both completed their bachelor's degrees and part of their Honors year at the University of Cape Town. The second part of their Honors year was completed at the London School of Economics.


Comaroff has conducted most of his field research in South Africa. From 1969–1970 he spent nineteen months studying society, culture, politics, and law among the Barolong boo Ratshidi, which is part of the Tswana chiefdoms located along the South Africa-Botswana Borderland. From 1972–1973, he went back to the Mafeking District, of the Barolong boo Ratshidi, for supplementary research on society and culture for filming Heal the Whole Man, which looks at healing and other religious practices of the Barolong boo Ratshidi (British Film Institute, 2012). He then focused his research on the social and cultural aspects of economic development of the Barolong in Botswana for 15 months in 1974 and 1975. From 1977–1978 for 3 months, he focused on this group again, but looked at the rise of agrarian capitalism. During the summers of 1990–1998, Comaroff returned to South Africa to conduct research in various places such as Bophuthatswana, better known as the North West Province. From 1999–2001, he again studied in the North West Province looking at occult-related violence, and researched this topic for fifteen months. Then from 2002–2001, he studied Crime and Policing in this area. During 2005–2010 he was also researching the Tswana and San people and how ethnicity identity and cultural property is becoming commoditised (Comaroff, 2013).

Comaroff is an affiliated research professor at the American Bar Foundation. He joined the bar foundation in 1991 and was originally considered a research professor until 2012. In 2012, he and Jean Comaroff took teaching positions at Harvard University.

Comaroff's most recent[when?] project is called Ethnicity Inc., which is follow up research that is being conducted in connection with the Comaroff's book Ethnicity Inc. The project focuses on why it is that ethnic groups have become more and more like corporations, why culture has become more like intellectual property, and what it is about the contemporary world that has made it that way.[citation needed][3]

The Comaroffs published a book called Theory from the South, which is based on research that was conducted in South Africa.(American Anthropological Association, 2012).

John and Jean Comaroff spent 34 years teaching at the University of Chicago.

Research interests[edit]

Witchcraft has been a topic of interest for the Comaroffs since 1969. The Comaroffs became particularly interested in this phenomenon after they returned to South Africa in the 1990s, shortly after apartheid had ended in South Africa.

Global capitalism also serves as a topic of interest for both Comaroffs. They published Ethnicity Inc. (2009), which focuses specifically on the topic of global capitalism. They have also expressed an interest in the concept of lawfare, specifically the ways in which the law has been used to inflict violence indirectly by using the law to benefit oneself at the expense of others. This concept is used in their book Law and Disorder in the Postcolony (2006) in an analytical sense.

In their book, Of Revelation and Revolution, the Comaroffs look closely at hegemony. Their definition states, "We take hegemony to refer to that order of signs and practices, relations and distinctions, images and epistemologies – drawn from a historically situated cultural field – that come to be taken for granted for as the natural and received shape of the world"(Comaroff, 1991).

Comaroff has also been a lecturer in social anthropology at the University of Wales (1971–1972), University College of Swansea (1971–1972), and the University of Manchester (1972–1978). He was also a visiting professor at the University of California Riverside (1981–1982), Duke University (1989), Tel Aviv University ( 2000), University of Basel (2005), and the University of Vienna (2007). Additionally, Comaroff was an Honorary Senior Fellow at the University of Manchester in the International Centre for Contemporary Cultural Research (1994–1995) and in the Department of Social Anthropology (1996–1998). In 1988 and 1995 he was an Associate Director of Studies in Paris. Furthermore, Comaroff was a visiting scholar at the Center for Modern Oriental Studies in Berlin (1998) and a visiting fellow at the Stellenbosch Institute for Advance Study in South Africa (2010 and 2011). Since 2004, John Comaroff has been an Honorary Professor at the University of Cape Town.[citation needed]

Sexual harassment allegations[edit]

A May 2020 investigation by The Harvard Crimson determined that several students had raised concerns with the university's Title IX office, making allegations of "unwanted touching, verbal sexual harassment, and professional retaliation" against Comaroff. In response to student concerns, the Anthropology department removed Comaroff from a class he was scheduled to teach in the spring and asked him not to use his office on campus. [4]

University administrators placed Comaroff on "paid administrative leave" in August 2020 amid a review of the allegations. [2]


  • Oppenheimer Research Scholar at Harvard University in Cambridge, MA.[5]


  • American Anthropological Association. (2013). Theorizing the Contemporary: Comaroff and Comaroff. Journal of the Society for Cultural Anthropology
  • American Bar Foundation.(2013). American Bar Foundation:expanding knowledge, advancing justice
  • Bantu Authorities Act. (n.d.). In Encyclopædia Britannica online.
  • British Film Institute. (2012). Heal the Whole Man.
  • Comaroff, J. & Comaroff J. (1991). Of Revelation and Revolution Volume 1: Christianity, Colonialism, and Consciousness in South Africa. Illinois, Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
  • Comaroff, J., & Comaroff, J. (2006). Law and Disorder in the Postcolony. Illinois, Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
  • Comaroff, J., & Comaroff, J. (2009). Ethnicity Inc. Illinois, Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
  • Comaroff, J., & Comaroff, J. (2011). Theory from the South: Or, How Euro-America is Evolving Toward Africa. Colorado, Boulder: Paradigm Publishers
  • Comaroff, John L., & Roberts, S. (1986). Rules and Processes: The Cultural Logic of Dispute in an African Context. Illinois, Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
  • Comaroff, J., Comaroff, J., & James, D. (2007). Picturing a Colonial Past: The African Photographs of Isaac Schapera. Illinois, Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
  • Department of African American Studies. (2013). John Comaroff
  • Landua, P. (2000). Hegemony and History in Jean and John L. Comaroff's "Of Revelation and Revolution" [Review of the book Of Revelation and Revolution]. Retrieved from
  • Schonwald, J. (24 May 2001). 2002 quantrell award winner: John Comaroff, Harold H. Swift distinguished service professor in anthropology and the college.



  1. ^ Europa Publications, International Who's Who of Authors and Writers 2004 (Routledge, 2003: ISBN 1-85743-179-0), p. 111.
  2. ^ a b Bikales, James. "Anthropology Prof. John Comaroff Placed on Administrative Leave Following Allegations of Sexual Harassment". The Harvard Crimson. Retrieved 18 December 2020.
  3. ^ Comaroff, Jean (2009). Ethnicity, Inc. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press. ISBN 978-0-226-11472-9.
  4. ^ Bikales, James. "Protected by Decades-Old Power Structures, Three Renowned Harvard Anthropologists Face Allegations of Sexual Harassment". The Harvard Crimson. Retrieved 18 December 2020.
  5. ^ "John Comaroff". Retrieved 30 May 2020.