Given that my research straddles several academic discourses and disciplines, I very much look forward to joining and learning from the vibrant, interdisciplinary scholarly community at Emmanuel. I will use the fellowship to turn my doctoral research into a book, as well as develop two further lines of research. The first focuses on how sub-Saharan Africa became increasingly marginal within comparative theorising on the academic Left from the 1980s onwards, and the impact that this had on how globalisation was understood at the turn of the 21st century. The second will look at how 20th century discourses of economic development and poverty alleviation have shaped contemporary approaches to the climate emergency.
Having grown up in South Africa’s industrial heartlands, when not in bucolic Cambridge I am most likely re-establishing my natural equilibrium in the polluted streets of Johannesburg, Thessaloniki or London. I tend to give both boat clubs and sports fields a wide berth, though I did, in a previous life, earn a black belt in Judo and might yet be convinced to make a belated return to the dojo.
In broad terms my research concerns the history of ideas about development and the legacy of development discourses on contemporary political thinking. Development deals with some of the “great issues” which human beings have grappled since the time of Plato and Aristotle – with notions of justice, equality and inequality and the nature of the good life. But the language of development, as we use it today, is relatively new. It emerged in the mid-20th century during the era of decolonisation which brought with it the promise of a modern way of life and an improved standard of living for all the people of the world, regardless of race, culture or regional particularities. The enthusiasm and bold universalism of that earlier era has been tempered over the decades. Nonetheless, the ideas produced in that period continue to shape how we measure progress, how we diagnose injustice and how we imagine a better world.
My doctoral research focused on the influence of anthropological, sociological and economic ideas about sub-Saharan African societies on thinkers associated with the French and British New Lefts. My research shows that, for these thinkers, sub-Saharan African evidence not only provided a window into the pre-capitalist modes of production and the development of capitalism, but was also considered useful for integrating migrant labour and racial discrimination into standard Marxist accounts of exploitation and class formation. Before the contemporary scholarly interest in decolonisation, I show how New Left thinkers in the 1960s and 1970s were convinced that non-Western contexts and experiences necessitated the wholesale rethinking of inherited conceptual categories.