Trying to make a meaningful connection: Keith Hart’s anthropology

By | May 15, 2016


Transcription of an interview with Federico Neiburg and Fernando Rabossi held at the National Museum (Federal University of Rio de Janeiro), on May  23rd, 2011. It will be published in Portuguese at Mana: Studies in Social Anthropology.


Federico Neiburg (FN): You have your PhD in anthropology from Cambridge, having studied Latin and Greek before. So how did you arrive at anthropology?

Keith: I loved classical literature. I was ready to be a literary critic in the style of the discipline and at that time 80% of all student assessment was translation. I loved translation, in both directions. I won a prize once for translating Dante into Homeric hexameters. Even now I would say the highest intellectual activity is translation. I don’t mean between languages, so called; I mean every time each of us tries to communicate, [it] involves some kind of translation between your experience and mine, and whether anything really happens is kind of accidental. What I love about humanity is the extraordinary good will that we bring to communication, whereas we actually communicate very little. Yet we have a tremendous belief that what I just said is now in your head. Returning to your question, the classics were very narrow at that time. I was interested in Greek tragedy and Latin lyric poetry. But there was no way I could do a PhD on this. The point of literary criticism was to consolidate the tradition and most of the major authors had already been consolidated, so were stuck with cultivating the margins. And the other thing was that ambitious bright boys did classics and maths. So, at Cambridge there were all these bright boys like me who were also focused on Latin and Greek. The competition was quite substantial, yet the market for classics was in decline. So I was always a realist, I was a professional careerist. And at the same time, in the sixties, social science was expanding. So I thought I’d better switch from classics to social science. And the first thing I thought of, obviously, was sociology.

FN: If we could go a little bit back, how did you arrive at Cambridge from Manchester?

Keith: My family home was always in Manchester. But I went to Manchester Grammar School, which was the best school in the country at that time. I was specialized in classics. In the 19th century Manchester Grammar School had closed scholarships to Oxford and Cambridge colleges, because the colleges wanted to guarantee that they had customers. So they would agree to take a fixed number of students; one particular college would take maybe 10 students from Manchester Grammar School. So it really was a closed system then. But this had more or less ended, but Manchester Grammar School had one closed scholarship left, which was called the Patchett Scholarship, and it was at St John’s, Cambridge; one day my teacher said, “of course you’ll be getting the Patchett”. I didn’t know what it was. Because it was the only one, they gave it as a prize. It meant that I could get to Cambridge without passing the exams. So that’s how I went there.

FN: I heard you say that you found some parallels between Cambridge and a Church.

Keith: Actually I was eight years old and I visited an aunt in Bedford when we took a trip to Cambridge. I asked why have they got so many churches here? And they said, they’re not churches, they’re schools. And I said, when I grow up I want to go to a school that looks like a church. And this became family mythology. Keith wants to go to Cambridge. So I mean I was completely focused throughout my teenage years on getting to Cambridge.

FN: Who was in Cambridge when you arrived, David Lockwood?

Keith: He was there, but at that time, sociology was in the economics department, and you could only do sociology as part of an economics degree. It’s funny given what I became later, but the economics put me off. I was a cox, steering a rowing boat. And my coach once was a geographer from Turin, from the Jewish aristocracy, called Claudio Vita-Finzi. He used to spend all the winters in the Mediterranean studying desert erosion, how the goats do it in Sicily or Lebanon, and then he would come back in the spring to do things like coaching, rowing and so on. I thought, that’s pretty good, that’s not a bad way to live. And then I heard that social anthropology was sociology with travel thrown in. So I thought well maybe that’s better. But the thing that decided it, Jack Goody was in my college and we were both regular drinkers. One day he said he was doing a seminar on clientship, this was 1962 when Maquet produced his book on Rwanda. It was quite a popular topic. I told Jack that I’d give him a paper on Roman clientship. So he said, great. And then I forgot. One day, it was like a Monday, he said, remember you’re on for your seminar paper this Wednesday. So I had to do something I would never have done. If I was writing an essay on Roman clientship, I would have to read all the extant texts in the original and build the essay on original quotations. My tutor would not have accepted anything else. But I didn’t have the time. So I went to the library and I got hold of the Cambridge Ancient History and some secondary sources and put together something truly shameful, built on secondary sources, just reading books in English. I gave this talk. I was really afraid. And they fell over themselves, they said it’s so sophisticated, so insightful. And I thought, these people have no intellectual standards at all. They don’t know that I’m bluffing. I was a professionally trained scholar, but if I did anthropology, I could study anything, because anthropologists can pose any question, no limits, it’s just the opposite of classics. In classics the kind of question that I was involved in was, is this letter in a 12th century Spanish manuscript an alpha or an eta? It was that narrow. And people would spend fifteen minutes disputing this in a seminar. There was an incredible sense of focus and specificity. And then I realized that anthropology would allow me to ask any question I liked AND they had no scholarly standards. [Laughter.] That was brilliant.


Fernando Rabossi (FR): So, you turned to anthropology in the hands of Jack Goody?

Keith: In fact Jack Goody was the only teacher I had, at an intimate level, because when I switched from classics to social anthropology he was in charge for my college, so he became my undergraduate supervisor, the only one I had. And then he became my PhD supervisor. I worked with him all the time, but I had a close relationship with Audrey Richards too, because she was the director of the African Studies Centre and she gave a course on urbanization and migration in Africa, which was my favourite topic. That was what I wanted to work on. In my early career I just wanted to work on migration. Indeed my PhD fieldwork was on migrants to the city and economy. Meyer Fortes was head of department. Maybe I am still arrogant, but I was more arrogant then than now.  So I didn’t go to lectures. He used to have a seminar for the senior students. I went to one of them and then left, because I thought it was rubbish. So he never actually knew me, especially because I had come in late from classics… And then I got a first in the final exams.

FN: Who were your peers?

Keith: Johnny Parry, Caroline Humphrey, Enid Schildkrout who later worked at the American Museum in New York, a number of people. But Fortes didn’t know who the hell I was, because I never turned up. What got him really upset was when I went to do research in Ghana, and when I got there I decided to study the Tallensi, who were his people. So this guy he didn’t know turned up in Ghana… I wrote him a letter and said I’m studying the Tallensi. It blew him away. I wrote five letters before he actually replied to me. He told me many years later that he thought Jack Goody had set me up to undermine his work. I was a spy, basically, a subversive agent. Fortes had taken Cambridge social anthropology when it was really mediocre and had built it up into the best department in the country. But at that time, with sociology expanding, there was a new department of social and political sciences and Jack favoured integrating social anthropology into this department. Meyer wanted social anthropology to remain as it was and he knew that Jack would be his successor as head of department. Jack was writing articles in national magazines saying what is social anthropology anyway if not comparative sociology? So Meyer was deeply suspicious of my role in this game. And it took him a long time to overcome his suspicions.

FN: What was your relationship with Audrey Richards?

Keith: I always remained close to Audrey. She was a great gossip. She once said to me that Jack had asked her what I was writing my thesis on, because he had never read it. I was convinced that Jack hadn’t read anything that I had written and that I’d learnt nothing from him. That was my belief. But many years later, when he launched his series of books comparing Eurasia and Africa, the first one was called Production and Reproduction and he has a little preface in it about a page and a half, where he lays out the principles of his anthropology. So I read this thing and the first one, I said, yeah, I agree with that. Then the second one, I said, I agree with that. The third one, I said, I agree with that… Wait a minute, I thought, it can’t be accidental that I actually share Jack Goody’s principles, so perhaps he taught me after all. But that was our generation, the 60s, when we all thought we were orphans, we owed nothing to our parents and teachers, we were making the world from scratch, by ourselves. So it took a long time but eventually I realized that Jack had shaped me. In fact, all the work that I am doing comes out of trying to be like Jack, really. He taught me by example, even though I wasn’t aware then of what I was concretely learning from him.

FR: What about Meyer Fortes?

Keith: He was the internal examiner for my PhD thesis and he was very, very positive. He offered me a post-doc at King’s College to study the Tallensi with him. He said that I would be the next lecturer in Cambridge and could teach primitive and peasant economy, like Raymond Firth. This was very frightening to me. I thought I was going to end up in this narrow circle of “Ghanaiologists”. Our discussions were so particular that people would ask questions and answer them using only proper names, you know, place names, names of individuals. There was no attempt to generalize because everybody knew the same local things. I was scared of being trapped in this. So instead of accepting his offer, I took a job in a development studies outfit in a new university, East Anglia, at Norwich. Meyer never forgave me for that. In fact, I was told later that he went to Chicago and somebody said “did anybody study the Tallensi after you?” He said, “Well, there was a guy, but he gave it all up to study tourism in the West Indies”. He told me quite explicitly that he thought the only reason that I was doing this was for money, that I was just another of these Manchester utilitarian types, only interested in cost-benefit analysis. He once wrote me a seven page letter in which he said, “I always thought you were a Benthamite with hedonistic qualities. I wouldn’t expect someone as shallow as you to understand the notion of family piety”. Things like that. He really killed me. At this point I thought there’s no way I can go through him to writing about the Tallensi. So I decided to move sideways into development so as not to be in direct competition. He interpreted this repudiation as being, basically, to get rich by joining the World Bank and stuff like that. There’s a conclusion to this story. I was teaching in Chicago for a year, and I got a postcard from Meyer Fortes. I’d published an article in Research in Economic Anthropology on the economic conditions of Tallensi social history in the colonial period. I basically took Fortes’s side in his debate with Leach and Worsley over the economic conditions of kinship. It’s a good article, if I say so. It’s the only article that I published on the Tallensi. Somehow he got hold of it and he sent me this postcard with Rubens’s Adoration of the Magi painting, which is in King’s College Chapel. So he wrote to me and he said, “I was wrong about you, Keith. You were serious after all. And you have made an original contribution to the economic analysis of Northern Ghana.” So, you know, all is forgiven, that kind of thing. But by the time I got this card he was dead. He had written it from hospital and when I tried to contact him, they said, Oh, Meyer Fortes died last week. You couldn’t make that up, could you, really?

FN: In a way, it was a complex inter-generational relationship.

Keith: Yes, in a way. I got a very strong feeling that Fortes and Evans-Pritichard thought all of us, my generation, were a waste of time. That there was no point in taking us seriously because we had our own agenda, we weren’t listening, we just wanted to turn everything upside-down. So they basically cultivated being Old Fogeys. You would think they were idiots from the way they talked… Meyer maintained this register with me for ten years. I couldn’t get a serious conversation going with him. I learnt later why, because he thought I was a Jack Goody’s spy. Jack was then encouraging all his students to study modern social phenomena: teaching, local government, commerce. Meyer Fortes felt that I was on the other side in that sense too: we were the modernizers, we didn’t care so much about traditional social structure. Then one day, I remember it very vividly, Fortes took me to lunch in King’s and we were having coffee afterwards. We were talking I don’t know about what, but I used the word “time” and he asked “what do you mean by time?” Within two minutes, I was drowning, I mean we were into really deep, philosophical, scientific waters. Meyer Fortes invented psychological statistics with Karl Pearson. This guy knew Freud and Marx inside-out. And Evans-Pritchard was a master of English rationalist philosophy and history. They just decided to send these people out, get them to do fieldwork, but don’t expect them to understand anything. I was very upset that they wouldn’t teach the intellectual history of the discipline that they had mastered, but they didn’t see it was necessary to share this with us. So the fact that I’ve become an intellectual historian — a lot of what I write is intellectual history, really — is because they denied us access. But I’ll never forget that moment when he pulled the trap door open and I went through the floor. Of course because Meyer Fortes was so rough with me, I ended up venerating him the most, because you need to be tough to me to get my respect, and he did. He was a bastard really. I have in me a memoir about him. His greatest work was on the development cycle in domestic groups[1]: how can you have a social order when it’s based on life, on people, birth, copulation, death, it’s all so chaotic. The idea was that the forms are imposed in life-cycle rituals, marriage, funerals and so on. He once told me that he got the idea from D’Arcy Thompson,  a renegade geneticist who wrote a book called On Growth and Form, which is anti-Darwinian. The argument goes, “OK, so evolution is all about this micro-variation, but if that’s all there is, why do all the members of a species look alike? Why can you tell that one oak leaf looks like all the others, what is it that accounts for this consistency of form?” This was Meyer’s thing. He used to say, when we were students, “you people, all you want is change, but what matters is continuity. That’s the difficult thing.” Why are species so stable in their forms? If evolution is sustained by variation, where does the form come from in a context of all this kind of flux that is life. I think his book The Web of Kinship, which is quite statistical and network-based, and especially his work on Ashanti time and social structure was is highest achievement. I would like to write about that, because that was when he drew on his work with Pearson and his fieldwork. I’ve seen it, it’s just incredible, his fieldwork notes. He heard the words so much more subtly than I ever did… he understood the etymology. Many of his notes are written in their language, just in Talni, and his understanding of the grammar and the forms of words was just incredible.

FR: Did you study the Frafra?

Keith: Yes, in the city, in Accra, the ethnic label was Frafra, but Frafra included four groups, one of which was Tallensi.

FN: How did you decided to go to Ghana?  Was it Jack Goody?

Keith: No, Jack and Meyer didn’t help me. I got money through Audrey Richards and my tutor, who was an African historian called Robbie Robinson. I went to Ghana because I figured that Jack Goody and Meyer Fortes would be more likely to get me extra money if I was doing something that was relevant to them. I also – this is funny – thought Ghana was more peaceful than some other places in Africa and then they had a military coup within 6 months of my arriving there. So I didn’t care where I went really. I was a professional. I just wanted a PhD so that I could become an academic.

FN: When did you began to think of going to Africa?

Keith: Half the department was focused on Africa. Johnny Parry and I were friends, and there were really only two paths: one was through Edmund Leach and into Asia, the other through Jack Goody and Meyer Fortes into Africa. As I started out with Jack as my only teacher, it wasn’t even an option. But I really believed, as I think many of us did then, that post-colonial politics had global significance. What the African new states were doing in the 60s mattered to us all. I went there with a political project in mind. I was going to study migrants to the city and look at their relationship to politics, to citizenship, forms of association, and so on. But when I got there I found it was a police state, nobody would talk about politics because they were afraid. So I had to rethink my topic. I noticed how lively the street economy was, so I decided to study that. But I went out there mainly with a political agenda, so Ghana was important as the first African country to declare independence. There was much more available on Ghana because it was the first and it was a crucible of the anti-colonial revolution.

FR: It was in this context that you began to formulate your ideas about informality. How did this subject develop in your early work on Ghana?

Keith: Around 1970 it became very clear to everyone that the post-war boom was over. The development project to make poor countries rich had failed. This was the time when underdevelopment theory, world systems theory, dependency theory and so on were all coming out of Latin America and the Middle East, and there was a kind of panic in America, especially, at places like the World Bank, which at that time was headed by McNamara, and they noticed that third world cities were growing very fast, but there didn’t seem to be any real jobs. When they counted the number of what they thought of as real jobs, it was a very small portion of the total number of people who were coming to live in the city. So they imagined that the people who didn’t have jobs were unemployed. Their idea of unemployment was the 1930s, you know, ‘Buddy, spare me a dime,’ broken men losing factory jobs, standing on street corners, and there was a fear of unemployment as destabilizing, as a source of rebellion, revolt, revolution. So around the 1970s, this was the problematic. When I entered the development studies department at Norwich, as a lonely anthropologist, the rest were economists, everybody was talking about what we are going to do about this unemployment problem. People were advocating sending them back to the countryside, they must be got out of the city because they can do some real damage there. That’s the context. So I’m thinking, “unemployment?” I had spent two and a half years in Accra, but it didn’t come to me immediately. I thought, there’s something bad about this analysis. I started writing about it and I realized that the problem was, they’re not unemployed, they are working. It’s just that they’re working in a way that is not recognized by officials. So I wrote a paper about informal income opportunities to say that people have a lot more at their disposal than would seem to be the case. Just because they don’t have formal jobs doesn’t mean that they have nothing. But this was taken up by a group of development consultants in Kenya, they took my conference paper and used it to coin the expression ‘informal sector.’ Use of the term sector suggests something like agriculture or manufacturing, but that implies they’re in different places. To talk about an informal sector suggests that it’s somewhere special, and the whole point of my analysis was that everybody is in both formal and informal places. We would all like a regular income and so on, but we also have to find other ways of supplementing it. So in my mind it was never a sector. It was just that some economic relations are regular. I took from Weber the idea that formal meant regular, rules, and that informal meant irregular, not rule-bound. But I saw them from the beginning as being dialectically interconnected.

FN: Your first paper or first article on these topics was when?

Keith: I produced it for a conference on urban unemployment in Africa, at Sussex in 1971. The people who organized the conference were two economists called Richard Jolly and Hans Singer. My paper was a great success and everyone thought it was wonderful. A lot of people were quite enthusiastic about it. But these economists were not. They stayed aloof from it. There was supposed to be a conference volume, to publish the proceedings of the conference. And then out of nowhere and very quickly the same people went to Kenya and produced for the ILO a report whose main selling point was the importance of the informal sector, as they called it. And they made no reference to me. Not only that, soon afterwards they announced that they had cancelled the book of the conference. Now there were a lot of people who had been at the conference who knew the story and some started writing articles saying Keith Hart invented the informal sector. So the fact that I had been ripped off probably led to me being more closely identified with the idea than if it had been published normally. The editor of the Journal of Modern African Studies, David Kimball thought it was a scandal and he wrote to me saying, if you give me your paper I’ll publish it in a quarter of the usual time. Which he did. So the paper actually came out in 1973. But it leads to some confusion. But also, the ILO report had as its object something different from mine. My objective was to use my ethnographic experience to correct false impressions of what people were doing. I wasn’t interested in coining a concept. I just wanted development economists to recognize that how they imagined people were working was wrong. And that we should start thinking more about it. What these people wanted was a concept that could help them to organize bureaucracy and things like that. In the end I would say now that this idea really does have a double provenance. On the one hand bureaucracy, on the other hand the people. On the one hand economics, on the other hand ethnography. But at the time that this came out, I converted to Marxism. The Marxists hated the informal sector — all that stuff; they said it should be called petty commodity production, or whatever. I didn’t want to hang out with these informal sector people. So I just left it for fifteen years. I paid no attention, at all. And then somewhere around 1988-89, when the world was turning, the Berlin Wall, Mandela, etc, I wondered what had happened to this informal thing? I looked around and shit, it was still going strong. I figured that it was about time that I re-established ownership. [Laughter]

FN: At that time, did you know something about development anthropology and sociology in Latin America? For example the monograph by Larissa Lomnitz, How the Marginalized Survive [Cómo Sobreviven los Marginados] published in 1975?[2]

Keith: I did get to know Larissa Lomnitz personally, but no I didn’t read her book then. There were lots of people writing at this time. Clifford Geertz wrote about the bazaar economy in 1963.[3] There was a geographer called Terry McGee, who worked in Southeast Asia, who published a book around ’71 which drew on Geertz to talk about the firm economy and the bazaar economy.[4] It was the moment that they realized modernization doesn’t work. So if modernization doesn’t work, what the hell is going on? And this of course was also the time when the Americans are losing the war in Vietnam, the Bretton Woods post-war regime collapsed, this was the turning point of the modern world. And then in 1973 you’ve got the Yom Kippur War, OPEC, the oil price hike, the energy crisis. These early years of the 1970s were really a huge turning point. And neo-liberalism, as we call it now, is what happened after that, it took the rest of the 70s to work out, but by the end of the 70s, Thatcher and Reagan were in power.

FN: How was it doing fieldwork in Ghana at that time? It was a very original subject then. How did you manage to do fieldwork on migration, rural and urban economy in the middle of the ’60s? We know you have already written a piece on your fieldwork there.

Keith: Yes, it’s called “Africa on my mind”.[5] Well, first of all, I’d been a professional gambler since I was 12. I was very much involved in horse racing at Cambridge. There’s a big horse racing centre called Newmarket near Cambridge. I was in the Cambridge underworld through the kitchen manager of my college, who was a guy called Summers. Our friendship came out of the horses. At that time Cambridge’s underworld was rather underdeveloped. It was mostly built around food, which is to say that the kitchen managers stole food from the colleges and sold it to Cypriot restaurateurs. And then the kitchen managers made sure that the dinners the students had bought in advance were so poor that they would rather spend their own money buying food from the Cypriot restaurateurs. So that was the main element. There was also a new Italian kind of mafia, based on construction, cement and pizza. Then there were the crooks from the horse racing, you know, plus the police of course, you always have the police involved. And we used to meet in a strip club on the Newmarket Road. So I had all this background and in fact Jack Goody wanted me to study Newmarket racing. I knew I could end up dead so I said, “no way, I’m not gonna do that”. But also I grew up in a part of Manchester where nobody would expect the police to exemplify the principle of law and order. They were violent and corrupt. Even at the age of eight I was taking sweets from paedophiles without going into the bushes with them. This is the kind of world I grew up in. So I went into the slums of Accra because Frafras were there. I just asked where are they? I want to study these people. And they said they’re there. Okay, so I went in there and I got into a house belonging to somebody who was a small-time gangster and he took me into his house. My first few weeks were very difficult because nobody like me had ever lived in this kind of place, and I had the Special Branch, which is like the secret police or whatever, six of them on me permanently. They beat up the people I talked to, to try and find out what I really wanted to know. The whole area was a badlands, where the police didn’t routinely come, but invaded it occasionally with trucks and guns and dogs. They would snatch people and go away. And then there would be a witchcraft accusation session afterwards: Who was it gave the information? and they’d just point at me: it must be him! because I was the outsider and the white man, what am I doing here anyway? So, at some point it was getting out of hand. I thought I was going to be deported, and I went to the professor of sociology at the university and I said, can you write me a letter saying that I’m not CIA? He said, how do I know you’re not? So it was getting dangerous. I decided that I had to cross the line. I couldn’t stay on the fence anymore. In order to make these people realize that I was on their side or not against them, I had to be as vulnerable as they were. So I decided to cross completely, and I set up with my landlord. He was always short of money anyway, and I had my grant, which in those circumstances was quite a lot, and so the idea was I put up the money for some enterprise, he provides the contacts and the knowledge, and we split the profits 50-50. I get the field notes, that kind of thing. So a large amount of my research consisted of how can you find out about money-lending by not being a money-lender? I’ve seen so many stupid things by anthropologists about money-lending. They always talk about the interest rate, how large it is, and so on, but the point is the default rate: how easy is it to get the money back from people? What’s the default rate? No money-lender is ever going to talk to you about default because he’s exposing his own vulnerability. So I found out about most of these things by doing them. I’ll give you an example. We decided once to go into a field that my landlord knew nothing about, which was buying grain, speculation against scarcity in future. What we noticed, what anybody would notice, is that the price is at its lowest at harvest time in September, and then by next March, the price has doubled. So we thought, what could be easier? We buy a bunch of sacks of maize and we sell it six months later at double the price. So the first thing is we bought 50 bags of maize. We ran into a ring of porters at the truck station who charge 5 shillings a bag just to take it from the truck and put it on the floor. So that’s a cost you didn’t think about. Then there are other costs, like you have to keep turning the grain over, otherwise it gets weevils. And then you have to buy Gamelin B or whatever it was. Just keeping it for six months is no joke, believe me. And then when we’d managed to negotiate all of this, just when we were ready to sell, the Americans dumped PL-480 maize into the country and drove the price back to the harvest level. [Laughter.] So there we were. If we’re lucky, we get what we paid for it. But we’ve had all these other expenses in between. The only way that we can make anything at all is by selling it on credit. But then, if you sell it on credit, how do you get the money back? Then you have to send some guy to break a few legs [Laughter.] And he needs to be paid, and so on. So this is how it works. I don’t know how you can do fieldwork in these areas without being part of it.

FN: How long did you do fieldwork in Accra?

Keith: Two and a half years. I didn’t stay only in Accra. I also spent time in the North. I stayed for several months in the village that Meyer Fortes worked. I also got arrested four times: twice by the army and twice by the police. One of them was a really difficult one. I’ve written about it in that memoir.[6] For example, how do you go about making a bribe? Have you ever thought about how you bribe? It’s no good just throwing money at anybody who asks for it. You’ve got to find someone who is big enough to control the small fry but not too expensive. And in the British Colonial Police Service there was a position that did exactly that. The Assistant Superintendent of Police. If you look at the chain of command, you have sergeant, inspector, chief inspector, assistant superintendent, superintendent… So who is this guy, the assistant? He’s the guy who controls the small fry and takes the bribes. But it was difficult, I was involved in some very heavy duty stuff. We were recycling drugs seized by the police back onto the market — we were selling stuff for the police that they had seized. Sometimes I would have five pounds of pot [cannabis] in the ceiling, the rafters… I was under constant pressure from soldiers and police, and I decided this is really stupid. I was going to protect myself by keeping records of the highest level corruption that I knew about. And I wrote it out in triplicate and sent it to my mother, who freaked out when she read it all. [Laughter.]

FN: You were taken by the army, aren’t you?

Keith: I was seized by the army after the coup against Nkrumah; they took me away for a weekend and stuck a bayonet in my leg, they stamped all over my hands and broke my fingernails. All I could think of was, I hope this doesn’t mean that my PhD is going to be delayed! It’s hard to imagine just what a careerist academic I was. I remember, I said to Jack Goody after about two weeks as a student, what do I have to do to get a PhD here? He said, well don’t you think you ought to learn how to write an anthropology essay first? And I said, well, I know I can do that. I just want to make sure… I couldn’t think of doing anything else with my life than becoming an academic. But equally I didn’t want to depend on academia. So I had these other strings. I worked for the Economist, for the World Bank, I had these gambling options, I speculated in housing…

FN: Formal or not so informal opportunities to make a life. [Laughter]

FR: You mention a Marxist conversion, but you worked for the World Bank…. How was it? How was it working for World Bank?

Keith: It was great, actually. This was because of my development work in Norwich. They were commissioned to write a development program for Papua New Guinea’s independence. The World Bank was the agent for UNDP and Australia. They decided that Papua New Guinea was only two and a half, three million people and they could afford to be experimental. So they thought they would give the job to these guys in Norwich. And I was appointed. There were four of us. One guy was in charge of finance and development strategy, another studied agriculture, one studied mining, and I had the rest. So I had labour, social policy, education, rural development, all of that. And it was great. We went out to Papua New Guinea for three months, we also stopped off in Australia. It was a very interesting time because the Liberal/Country Party coalition government had been in power for 23 years and it was widely expected that the Labour Party under Gough Whitlam would come to power for the first time in 23 years. There was a sense of things turning round. It was a wonderful experience, it took us everywhere. I went to the Trobriand Islands, New Ireland, the Sepik River, Goroka, New Guinea Highlands, it was like a tour around classic anthropology. But we got into a fight because at that time the Bougainville Copper Mine was the biggest gold mine in the world. It was organized by Rio Tinto Zinc or their Australian subsidiary, and it was a rip off — the whole thing was a complete rip off. What I had in mind from the beginning was that this place could be another Congo, since there were already three secession movements: one in Bougainville, one in New Ireland, one somewhere else. Mike Faber (the team leader) and I felt that if PNG was going to have a chance, they had to maximize their returns from a few export enclaves: mining, forestry, fishing etc and use the money to bring the rural periphery in by means of redistribution. That was the overall policy. But this Rio Tinto mine was actually actively fomenting rebellion there. Just like the Union Minière in Katanga. The difference was that the French and the Belgians and the Americans supported Union Minière in fomenting rebellion, but the Australian government was doing the opposite because they saw Papua New Guinea as their Pacific frontier. The last thing they wanted was for it to break up into a bunch of little islands run by multinational corporations. So they actually went to CRA, Conzinc Riotinto of Australia, and said, look, if you guys don’t smarten up and follow our line, we will seize your nickel mines in Queensland. In other words, “don’t think you can get away with this because we have ways of stopping you from mining in Australia, which is your base”. So everything changed quite quickly. The idea of the integrity of Papua New Guinea was really a major plank of Australian policy and it had not been for the French and the Americans in the Congo. We thought it was obvious that the Bougainville mine was not delivering in revenue to the state as it should. It was a giveaway. So we insisted on the renegotiation of the treaty. At this point the two other guys, the agriculture and the mining experts, resigned because they thought that their careers as consultants were going up in smoke. The World Bank was against us, the Department of External Territories was against us, the colonial administration was against us. Everybody was against us. These two guys not only resigned, but they wrote letters to the Australian High Commission saying that Faber and Hart are lunatics and we want to get as far away from this thing as possible. So for a large part of my time, I had to think about who was on our side. We wouldn’t be there unless somebody supported us. Faber was known for having invented the 51% nationalization of copper in Zambia from Anglo-American. You don’t have to buy the whole thing, you just have to buy a bit more than half and then you have control. So why appoint somebody whose main claim to fame is nationalization of copper, when all the entrenched interests seem to be against it? The World Bank guy was the most hostile to it all. And one day, I was in Canberra and we’re drinking after some terrible, terrible meetings. It was so bad I got bronchitis. And I walked into a hotel door and broke my glasses [Laughter] so I had to wear my shades. So I could hardly speak and I had this bottle of cough mixture, I’m wearing shades and I’m hoarse, and I had to defend our recommendations against all-comers. And in the bar, a guy comes up to me and says: Let me buy you a drink Keith, you’re doing a great job. All I could think was who the hell is he? It turned out that the whole inspiration for the mission came from the Australian Treasury. They had worked out that Papua New Guinea was a device for recycling Australian taxes to three interest groups. One was the civil servants, one was the traders, but the main one was the farmers, because they were dumping surplus dairy products and rice on New Guinea – hence the Liberal-Country Party coalition… The Department of External Territories was always in the gift of the Country Party, which was the farmers’ party, so basically they were subsidizing civil servants and traders, but more than that, they were using Papua New Guinea to dump agricultural surpluses. It doesn’t sound a lot now, but this is 1973 and something like 500 million Australian dollars were being diverted to these three groups through Papua New Guinea. It was the Commonwealth Treasury that decided to do something to make Papua New Guinea independent and break up this crony recycling deal. So our policy of saying renegotiate the mining deal in Bougainville, get as much money as you can, use the money to shore up the territorial integrity of the country, build clientship relations with the periphery, all of this was exactly what the Treasury guys wanted. And it turns out that they actually nominated us. But we didn’t meet them for a long time. We never knew that we had any friends anywhere. But within five years of publishing our program, the leaders of all three secessionist movements were in the national cabinet. So I think we succeeded in that respect. We produced a preliminary report between trips and they had elections to establish self-government It turned out that in the elections, Pangu, which was the winning party, had publicized something called “The 8 points of development”, which they had taken from our preliminary report. They fought the election on the basis of this thing. So when we came back, Faber and I got to see Michael Somare, the new prime minister. And he says, ”Gentlemen, thank you, before you came, we were told by the World Bank and others that development meant only one thing, which is increasing money income to whoever gets it, and now we know that there is at least another method. And at this point the guy from the World Bank and the planning officer of the colonial government, they all jumped in and said, these people are only saying what we were saying all along [Laughter] and we hope that you’ll give us the task of implementing your development program.

FR: That was the time in East Anglia, wasn’t, it? Did you remain there?

Keith: No, I went to Manchester just after East Anglia. I taught there for four years. I also worked as a development consultant and for part-time for The Economist during this period. The amazing thing is that Manchester had nobody to teach urban anthropology.  This would be in 1971. People like Bruce Kapferer were there, but their interests had moved on and Clyde Mitchel had moved into the sociology department. They appointed four positions in the early ’70s: me, John Comaroff, David Turton, and an American historian called Ken Brown. I was doing well, I was married, I had a kid, my wife had a job in a nearby university, I had a great house. And then something happened that led me to fall out with the head of department, Emrys Peters. I wrote to the head of the university, saying that the whole thing was corrupt, and they basically treated me as the problem, not what I was complaining about. So at that point I wrote to four American universities: Yale, Harvard, Chicago and Northwestern to say that I was available on the market. And I got interviewed at Yale and Chicago who both offered me jobs. At Yale they said, we want to appoint you as an associate professor. But we don’t know whether with tenure or without. And I said, you must be joking if you think I’m going to cross the Atlantic without tenure. I didn’t have a book published. I hadn’t written anything except this article on the informal economy. But they gave me tenure. I thought tenure was what it was in England, you know, you get a job, you work for two years and then. But at Yale, it’s life and death once you get in. But I didn’t know any of this stuff. I stayed there until 1979.

FN: How was your experience of the States?

Keith: Well, it was the hardest time of my life because my family broke up, I went mad, several times, I lost my anchorage and had to sell myself on short-term contracts. It was really, really rough. I love America. I’m a big fan of American society and culture. To some extent I later transferred this affection to Brazil, but there was a time when America filled my yearning for great sport, great popular music, great food, amazing, big, diverse country. When I went to America, I’d never in my life felt compulsion in the same degree as I did then. I mean, my wife didn’t want to go, I think her arguments were quite clear, so I felt torn. I wanted to accept the offer, but my wife didn’t want it. After three months of anguish, I wrote two letters, one saying yes, one saying no. I put a stamp on each of them and took them both to the post box, posted one of them and tore up the other. And the one that I sent was yes. But I felt a degree of compulsion to go that I have never experienced before or since. A sense that my whole life depended on going there. Now! I don’t think it’s hard in retrospect to figure out. The Americans build you up. They say, OK big boy, show us your stuff. Do what you like, you’re here, you’re our star, go for it. And you think, fuck. It’s not like England. In England, they’d say, down boy. [Laughter.] And I’m thinking, this is great. So they give you a boost. But when things don’t work out, there’s nobody there. I remember being on a street corner in Chicago and the wind was whistling up my ass, it was winter, and I thought, there is no-one within 1500 miles who understands me at all. So I was completely alone. That’s the flip side. So on the one hand you go out there, do what you like. Then when you go bust, you’re on your own. For many years, England depressed me, kept me down, America boosted me. But on the other hand, I was alone in America and then I went back to England and it feels comfortable to have people around me who know me and who are close to me. So I went back to Cambridge. But I soon took a job, assistant lecturer. At the age of 32 I had tenure at Yale, and at 41, 42, I’m starting as an assistant lecturer at the bottom of the hierarchy, without tenure on a very small salary.

FN: It was at that time that you wrote a piece on money? I find many links between your ethnography in Accra and you work on money beginning with the piece on the two sides of the coin?[7]

Keith: That was a bit later, in my first decade back at Cambridge, the 80s. I think the state/market pair of my money article is a cousin formal/informal, to some extent. There’s a Hegelian logic that I like, which is that no idea is big enough or strong enough to account for what people really do. However encompassing and powerful an idea like the state or the market might be, it’s never enough to capture what people actually do. So there’s always that spill over. And, following this, with Hegel, the most powerful analytical tools occur when the big idea produces as its negation another idea which is supposed to capture what it isn’t. Between them they get some more of it all, but still not all. So this idea of heads and tails, states and markets – this was the beginning of the neoliberal period, was when Friedman had overthrown Keynes, so there was a sense of this crazy oscillation between state management of money and non-management of money. That was part of it. The lecture[8] (and article) was in three parts and this organization was the main message for me: We’re here to celebrate Malinowski, and Malinowski gave us a particular genre of ethnographic work, which we have all lived off in some way. But in the first section, it says that anthropologists have got to be more self-conscious about the world history in which we take part, what is going on, like this switch from Keynes to Friedman. This is bound to influence what we think about money. So, even if only naively, we have to engage with the world we’re living in and with how it influences the questions we pose. Secondly, we can’t, as Malinowski did, enter economic disputes using vulgar reductionist ideas like Homo Economicus, when monetary history is very rich and varied, and there are well-developed alternatives for looking at the history of money. It’s not that difficult to figure out what they are. Thus Schumpeter’s History of Economic Analysis (1954) is really very readable. So it’s not that difficult. I argue that, instead of taking pot shots at vulgar versions of western economic ideas, we might be able to learn from some of them. So I said there’s the history of state money, community money, market money and so on. Let’s see if we can put them together into a set of combinations, instead of feeling we have to flip from one extreme to the other. And then the third section said, if we look at what the economists have got to offer us and think a bit about our place in history, then we can produce a more sophisticated analysis of the Trobriand Islands than Malinowski’s, analysing top-down and bottom-up ways of organizing exchange of fish and yams, for example. That was the message. But in fact that part of the lecture was never really taken up. Jane Guyer for example, Robert Foster and some others seem to have got the message. And they acknowledge it. But they never take up the first two sections, that we have to have a historical vision that is contemporary and should spend time with the specialists. You couldn’t study law without paying attention to the history of jurisprudence. Why would you think you can study markets and money without paying any attention to economics? But most anthropologists don’t. Johnny Parry and Maurice Bloch produced their money and the morality of exchange a bit later. [9] I probably exaggerate the contrast between what I did and their project, but they thought they were doing something similar. In their book people in non-capitalist societies around the world are not held hostage by money to the same degree as we are in capitalist societies; and they put the money to long-term use as social reproduction. That’s fine. But what they don’t consider at all is how did it ever come about that money was supposed to have a life of its own in capitalist societies? Why is it that the payment of money transforms a relationship for us? They didn’t address that. Johnny is my best friend, we raised our teenage daughters together. We had consecutive Malinowski lectures and his lecture, which was published in the same year, is the one on the Indian gift, which is more famous than my lecture. [10] When I told the Mauss conference at Cerisy,[11] I’m bringing Johnny Parry, they said “You mean *the* Johnny Parry? The Indian gift?” I thought my book The Memory Bank (2000) was significant, but ten years later I realize that whatever I wrote there is not as important as what I wrote in that 1986 article. [12] There’s something really deep there that I wasn’t probably aware of. And so I still get more from revisiting it than I do from my book.

FN: I am fascinated by the connections between the article on head and tails (state and market) and your further developments on the theme of money and business that, as you say, are always both personal and impersonal. What do you think about this link?

Keith: I’m sure that I’ve always been asking the same questions  and I keep going back to them, but the terms in which I engage them shift, then start feeding back into what I have written earlier. So in the last ten years, as a result of The Memory Bank, the key pair became for me personal/impersonal. The small book, The Hitman’s Dilemma, is my fullest attempt to explore that.[13] But yes, certainly, there is a persistent engagement with dialectical pairs that might help us to understand some of the durable questions. It becomes difficult to separate them — all becomes a blur. Is it formal, informal, personal, impersonal, state, market? This is the first time that I’ve told anybody this, but I believe that the reason that I’m an anthropologist, the fundamental reason, came from my experience as a teenager trying to pass exams to get to Cambridge. And the thing that I couldn’t bear was the impersonal examination system. First of all I had no family background. My parents were very proud of me, but they couldn’t advise me. And I was the first from a large inner city area who ever got into Manchester Grammar School. It’s like Brazil, most of the people who get into Manchester Grammar School have a private education. They’re trained to pass the exams. Every year there are 10,000 applicants, and the area is a 40-50 mile radius from the city centre and you can only enter the exam if your headmaster recommends you for it. So you have 10,000 teacher’s pets from all over the region and they reduce this in the first round from 10,000 to 2,000, and you have a second exam and they take 200 from the 2,000. And that’s it. I got onto the front page of the local newspaper for winning a place. So you can see, I had absolutely no precedent. I didn’t know how much work I had to do. So I overworked. By the time I was 18 I had read everything extant in Latin and Greek, I just didn’t know when to stop. So I knew that I was working like a maniac, that I’d sacrificed everything to do this. But what killed me was that the examinations are graded anonymously. In other words, you fill up your exam book and it goes I don’t know where. Somebody who you never met reads this thing. So I know that I’ve done enough work to pass the exams, but there’s only one thing that can go wrong, which is if the guy who is grading my paper does it badly. So I have to influence him somehow. The first thing I did was to read up on handwriting. Forward sloping is extrovert and backward sloping introvert, and large loops is psychotic — all that kind of thing [Laughter]. I then developed a handwriting style that is regular but distinctive and easily readable. So at least the guy can say, oh thank God, a script I can read! That’s the first thing. But then — because I am a novelist manqué – I did something original, I imagined a guy in his 50s who is on his fourth whisky, its one o’clock in the morning, and he’s got 50 scripts to get through. My problem was this, what happens if he says, oh fuck it, I’ll give it a B and move on. How am I going to get his attention? I decided to put a joke in the first paragraph. I couldn’t lose really because either he likes the joke, in which case I’m ahead, or he doesn’t like the joke, but at least he’s reading. Now this I believe is the core experience that made me an anthropologist. I can’t bear depending on impersonal society. I have to make a personal connection that brings it more in my favour. And in the absence of any real contact, I’ll create a fiction that bridges that gap. All this stuff about the informal economy and heads and tails, and personal and impersonal, is reducible to this one question: How on earth am I, little Keithy from Old Trafford, going to deal with this remote shit out there on which my life depends? My life depends on it. I remember a film called Billy Elliot, which is about a mining kid who was a dancer. [14] There’s a point where he is interviewed for the national ballet school and then he has to wait for an answer at home. A brown envelope comes through the door with the answer: is he in or is he out? He decides he doesn’t want to open it in front of the family. At this point, it’s not just that the tears are pouring down my face, I’m sobbing, retching sobs when I recognize the situation. This fucking brown envelope. My life depends on what’s inside it, you know. I believe that’s the motive for becoming an anthropologist. Well I definitely want to have things more on my side than they were, but I want to do it in such a way that would help others too, to bridge the huge gap between the enormity of the forces that crush us and our own personality with its desires. How can we bring them closer together? To make some kind of meaningful connection? My teenage fantasy exchange with the imagined examiner, that was the origin of it.

FR: This is the spirit of the Open Anthropology Cooperative, isn’t it? To bridge the gap? To construct bridges?

Keith: Yeah, the Open Anthropology Cooperative is very interesting. It was a group of people, most of them graduate students, who met on Twitter, and we started exchanging thoughts about how it would be good to have an online association. This Twitter group moved onto my website to create a discussion forum, and then somebody said, have you tried Ning? So I went off, looked up Ning and just got started on this thing. [It now has 14,000 members in 2014!] I wasn’t delegated by anybody, I wasn’t working for anybody, I didn’t even know that, after I had put my email address in, I would be forever identified as the founder of this thing. But that’s where it came from. I’d been involved in attempts to self-organize communications since the early ’90s. I formed in Cambridge something called the Amateur Anthropological Association or the small triple a (you know, not the big triple a [AAA]) and that became a mailing list after a time. I do believe that there is tremendous potential in these social networking sites. Having been at it now for 20 years, I am quite certain that the skills needed to make the best use of these media are increasingly social rather than technical. When I started out, I depended on the geeks, because I didn’t understand any of it. It’s becoming easier and easier for anybody to join and use. At this point the real entrepreneurial skills are more social than technical. I know that I have them, but the OAC also coincided with my retirement. So I was aware that I was perhaps creating my own university from my laptop to compensate for the fact that I was no longer living in a university. The three words of the name are significant. One is “open access”, that’s easy enough. The second, “anthropology”, we have to rethink, let many anthropologies bloom and so on. The most difficult of the three is “cooperative”, because the true potential of this thing is collaboration. And that’s difficult to achieve. It’s hard enough to get people to be active, but to be active together is even harder. I have started a set of publications, called the Open Anthropology Cooperative (OAC) Press (, and we publish working papers, usually for online seminars. We run a seminar for two weeks and produce a paper beforehand so people can discuss it; the discussion is archived and is permanently accessible. So we now have all of this stuff in e-books. We’ve got a series called Interventions, which is recycled or new essays by old stars, including two pieces by Sid Mintz and another by Jean La Fontaine. Marshall Sahlins has promised some stuff and we have a series called Anthropology as Art, using art forms as a way of doing anthropology.  One of the first of these is going to be some Mayan sonnets by Roy Wagner. About 250 pages. I find that I rely too heavily on graduate students. And graduate students have two big drawbacks — they want to be professional anthropologists, which means that they’re actually quite conservative, and they also think that what they do online is a distraction from what they ought to be doing, which is their thesis. So I find it very hard to get people committed to working as I can work. At the moment I’m not worried, we’re only two years old, with 5000 members. I would say that at any time maybe only 50 people are actually active, but then who knows how many people are reading invisibly? We get something like 500 unique visitors a day. The second language of participants is Portuguese, people from Portugal and from Brazil.

FN: All these new forms of dialogue and platforms of networking seem to reflect what is going on in anthropology in the world today. What is your perception? What is going on in the discipline now, in the traditional centres like France, Britain and America and the “emergent” ones, like Brazil and many others?

Keith: One of the problems with the OAC is that almost half of the visitors are from the US and Britain. Our members are incredibly global. It’s really heart-warming to see, they come from absolutely bloody everywhere, Mongolia, you name it. It’s just amazing. So somehow the barriers to entry for people out there are not prohibitive. But the people who showed the earliest and greatest enthusiasm were the Lusophones. The French are not really up to it very much, they don’t join EASA either. France turns out to be the third largest visitor, but that’s mainly because of me! It counts all of my visits to the site as France.[15] [Laughter.] I’ve always felt that professional anthropology should open itself to exchange with interested people from outside the discipline. I do believe that anthropology is at its most conservative and even redundant in the old imperial centres, in France, Britain and America. I get tremendous satisfaction from regional and national variations in anthropology. I always cite Scandinavia – Finland, Sweden, Norway and Denmark. Two things. One is that the social democratic model was not eliminated there, and second anthropologists there have a sense of public responsibility because of this social democratic model. Norway ran a list of the top ten public intellectuals and three of them were anthropologists. Number one was Thomas Hylland Eriksen and number five, before she died, was Marianne Gullestad, number seven was Unni Wikan, Fred Barth’s wife. Ulf Hannerz in Stockholm was a star when he was fourteen years old, he won a TV prize for identifying exotic fish. But he was also a national hero over his PhD because he submitted Soulside for a PhD. One examiner was Michael Banton, a British sociologist, another was a Swedish anthropologist, and the Swedish anthropologist turned it down. This is Soulside, being turned down as being not up to a PhD. And the students demonstrated on the streets in favour of Ulf, so he got on television once more. Do you know the story about his fish? This is in the ’50s, when everyone watched TV on a Sunday night, the 64,000 dollar question, and he gets into the final round, so the whole of Sweden is watching this fourteen year old kid, and they give him a very complicated set of questions. He answers the first right, the second right, the third right, fourth right, and then they get to a list of five things and he identifies these five things and the guy says, oh, I’m sorry, you’ve made a mistake. And this fourteen year old kid, Ulf, my friend, he says, I think you’ll find I’m right. So they then got hold of the books and discovered that there were two names for this fish and he had one of them and they had the other. So first of all the whole of Sweden goes, oh the kid almost did it but failed! And then, but the kid won!! So he was a national hero, literally. And then he had students in 1968 marching in the streets to protect his PhD. So anyway, there is less of a gap there, and I’ve always found I have a market in Scandinavia, which is great, because I think they like direct speech, there’s something about my personality, my politics, my style of communication that they like. As for Brazil, one important issue in identifying the scope for anthropology in particular countries is to look at the academic division of labour in the social sciences. So, for example, in Britain, sociology is very catholic and universal, political science is very narrow, about government and so on. In America political science is catholic and sociology is very narrow and formal. I don’t know it as well as you do, but my understanding of Brazil is that sociology and political science got trapped in a rather rigid and old-fashioned style, Marxist or whatever, and then this opened up to the anthropologists the possibility of moving into contemporary urban society as well as maintaining their Amazonian stronghold. And so the scope for anthropology here is huge. Obviously social anthropology flourished in Britain before the war because there wasn’t really a viable sociology. The British ruling class decided they don’t want a sociology of Britain, but a sociology of colonial empire, which meant that the social anthropologists had a much wider scope to address the public than they would have if they were competing with a well-established sociology. These kinds of things matter, what circumstances allow anthropologists to assume a more expansive and public presence? The main point, however, is that anthropology is no longer one thing. It’s many things. It’s not always progressive. There are huge countries like India and Nigeria where there are loads of anthropologists, but they are all focused on so-called tribal studies. I’m sure this involves good, original work, but it means that anthropologists don’t get to move into broader issues of contemporary society. Some of the former lands of new settlement in the British Empire, places like South Africa, New Zealand, Australia, Canada have lively anthropologies. I have remade my life to a substantial degree in South Africa. It has always been a very important place for anthropology and I’m now organizing research in the largest university there, Pretoria, which is also a bastion of Afrikanerdom. This is where the Bantustan and apartheid policies were formed. But again it’s interesting that the liberal universities like the University of Cape Town, Wits (University of the Witwatersrand) and so on think they were on the right side in the anti-apartheid struggle and the Afrikaners were pursuing an antiquated, racist, German anthropology, but actually my friend John Sharp, at Pretoria, who is head of the anthropology department — he is the first person to be given access to the university archives for the early apartheid period — is coming up with some quite remarkable discoveries. For example, whereas the English anthropologists of Southern Africa tended to argue at that time that Africans were rural or tribal and cities were white, the Afrikaner anthropologists, who got most of their inspiration from American sociology of street life, Thresher on the gang and so on, were saying these people are the same as us. They want the same thing as us, except that there are many more of them than us, so either we have to give up and allow them to take over, or we get them out into the countryside quickly, while we can. So they produced apartheid politics as a program, send them back to the countryside, based on a very modern interpretation that the Africans are not substantially different from us: they want the same things, they’re essentially urban in their institutions and attitudes, and if we just leave this process to unfold naturally they will naturally take over. So I’m not saying the politics is admirable, it’s still apartheid politics, but it’s based actually on an American melting pot theory, which is remarkable, isn’t it? Anyway, South Africa has always been a very major source of anthropologists and of course we have people like Max Gluckman, Radcliffe-Brown, Fortes, Schapera and Hilda Kuper from there. It’s very exciting for me to be based in Durban and to know where Hilda Kuper’s office was when she was Hilda Beemer.

FR: And now you’re working not only with South Africans but with people from other parts of the world.

Keith: Yeah, for the book The Human Economy[16] I took a discourse that was exclusively Francophone and Latin American and added Scandinavian, British, American authors, while translating a large amount into English. But when it had been finished, it became clear that there were no Africans and Asians in it. So this is an ongoing process, in which each step pushes the boat out a bit further, and the next stage has to be to bring in more African and Asian contributors, but in conversation with Latin America. I think of myself as retooling in the southern hemisphere as what I call an IBSA man, which is an acronym for a triadic association between India, Brazil and South Africa. I’ve been accumulating Brazilian and Indian connections for a long time and I hope to see a quite lively and strengthened interaction coming out of these three places, which I actually think of as the most hopeful places on the planet. I’m not a big fan of China, I much prefer what the Indians do, even if they’re slower, and a bit less modern, but they are also more democratic. For me, the biggest political event of the last decade was when the Indian peasants threw out the BJP. That was just such an amazing democratic reversal, to get the Hindu fascists out.[17] And of course the Hindu fascists’ constituency are the urban middle classes, those who stand to gain most from neoliberal political economy. There are many problems, but the fact that the electoral system allows the peasants to throw these people out is brilliant. I’ve always loved India, I believe that South Africa is a very hopeful place too and I feel very bitter about the image of crime and violence that predominates. If a black majority government succeeds in developing the strongest economy in Africa, it would blow away so many preconceptions about race, development and class and so on. I think there’s built-in resistance to the idea that a black majority government can make an economic success of South Africa and the region. One of the ways it’s manifested is in a media conspiracy to portray South Africa as the crime and murder capital of the world. It doesn’t feel like that to me. There are conflicts, but I do believe that all the major classes and races have a stake in the new South Africa. The whites certainly have done better than they could have expected, probably too well, the Indians are running amok in the professions and civil service; the South African blacks are full citizens in the only viable African economy; and the Africans who have come in from outside know that they’re improving their chances. There are, it is true, important clashes between the two kinds of Africa, the whites are beginning to take for granted their superiority and privilege, and they’re beginning to moan about affirmative action and the ANC government does have many faults. But this country is only a hundred years old. South Africa was formed in 1910, it became a racist republic in 1961, it had African majority rule in 1994. No time at all. And the country is young, it’s beautiful, and the people are warm. White, brown, black, they’re warm. Compare them with France or Britain, there’s no comparison. The people of the North are depressed. Living in Paris, I have to go to South Africa to escape from the depression. I recall talking to a French woman who asked “What’s your book about?” “I’m writing a book about Africa’s urban future. I think there’s going to be big economic improvements.” She’s looking at me really bad, so eventually I say, “Well of course a lot of Africa is a mess”. She says, “Yes, it’s a mess”. So I asked, “Have you been there?” She says, “No, no, I’ve never been there.” It was so important to her that there’s this mess out there called Africa, where impoverished and hopeless black people are the permanent proof that being French is better. In Britain also. I have this book in me, which is going to be difficult to pull off, but the message of the book is the game is up. [18] The West has been taking unearned income from the rest of the world for five hundred years and the others are no longer willing to pay up. Europeans can’t even reproduce, but when they bring these people from Africa, the Middle East and Eastern Europe to work for their pensions, they hate them for it. They make life hard for them. It’s really miserable. The book is for Africans first, but it is also for the Europeans, saying this is for you, the game is up. [Laughter.]

FN: I have a lot of questions, we haven’t spoken about Jamaica for example, so many things to speak about, but I think that’s enough.

Keith: I talk too much.

FR: Thank you very much.

FN: Thank you for the interview. The game is up.

[1] The book The Developmental Cycle in Domestic Groups” was edited by Jack Goody and published in 1958. It explored Meyer Fortes ideas regarding the changing cycle of domestic groups and the consequences for the social dynamic highlighted in his article “Time and Social Structure: an Ashanti case study” (1949).

[2] LOMNITZ, Larissa Adler de. 1993 [1975]. Cómo sobreviven los marginados. Mexico: Siglo XXI Editores.

[3] GEERTZ, Clifford. 1963. Peddlers and Princes: Social Change and Economic Modernization in Two Indonesian Towns. Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press.

[4] MCGEE, Terence. 1971. The Urbanization Process in the Third World. London: G. Bell and Sons, Ltd.

[5] Hart, Keith. [2005] 2008. “Africa on my mind”.

[6] “Africa in my mind”, op.cit.

[7] Hart, Keith. 1986. “Heads or tails? Two sides of the coin” In Man, 21. 4: 637-656p.

[8] “The two sides of money” was presented by Keith Hart as a Malinowski Memorial Lecture, at the London School of Economics, on March, 13th, 1986.

[9] Jonathan Parry and Maurice Bloch (eds). 1989. Money and the Morality of Exchange. Cambridge University Press.

[10] Parry, Jonathan. 1986. “The Gift, the Indian Gift and the ‘Indian Gift’.” In Man, 21(3): 453-473.

[11] Keith Hart and Wendy James. 2014. “Marcel Mauss: a living inspiration”, Journal of Classical Sociology 14.1.

[12] Hart, Keith. 2000. The Memory Bank. London: Profile. (Republished in 2001 as Money in an Unequal World. New York and London: Texere).

[13] Hart, Keith. 2005.The Hit Man’s Dilemma: or business, personal and impersonal. University of Chicago Press for Prickly Paradigm Press: Chicago.

[14] Billy Eliot, directed by Stephen Daldry, 2000.

[15] Keith Hart has lived in Paris with his family since 1997.

[16] Keith Hart, Jean-Louis Laville and Antonio David Cattani eds. 2010. The Human Economy: A Citizen’s Guide. Cambridge: Polity.

[17] But they are back in 2014…

[18] Africa: The coming revolution (forthcoming). 12 lectures (MP3s) on “Africa in world history”

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