Ferguson, James

Ph.D. Harvard, 1985

James Ferguson is the Susan S. and William H. Hindle Professor in the School of Humanities and Sciences, and Professor in the Department of Anthropology. His research has focused on southern Africa (especially Lesotho, Zambia, South Africa, and Namibia), and has engaged a broad range of theoretical and ethnographic issues. These include the politics of “development”, rural-urban migration, changing topgraphies of property and wealth, constructions of space and place, urban culture in mining towns, experiences of modernity, the spatialization of states, the place of “Africa” in a real and imagined world, and the theory and politics of ethnography. Running through much of this work is a concern with how discourses organized around concepts such as “development” and “modernity” intersect the lives of ordinary people.

Professor Ferguson has recently been researching emerging trends in social assistance to alleviate poverty in southern Africa. While welfare programs in the West have been pared back in recent years, there has been a surprising expansion of social payments to the poor across much of the developing world. In South Africa, for instance, some 30 percent of the population today receives some kind of social grant. Tracing emerging new rationalities of poverty and social assistance, Ferguson aims to illuminate both the dangers and the possibilities presented by new mechanisms of “social” government and emerging forms of politics focused on the question of distribution. His new book, Give a Man a Fish: Reflections on the New Politics of Distribution, is now in production at Duke University press, with a scheduled release in April 2015.

Selected Publications: 

1990 "The Anti-Politics Machine: 'Development,' Depoliticization, and Bureaucratic Power in Lesotho." Cambridge University Press.

1999 Expectations of Modernity: Myths and Meanings of Urban Life on the Zambian Copperbelt., University of California Press.

2006 Global Shadows:Africa in the Neoliberal World Order., Duke University Press.

2010 The Uses of Neoliberalism. Antipode, volume 41, supplement 1, 2010.

2013 How To Do Things with Land: A Distributive Perspective on Rural Livelihoods in Southern Africa. Journal of Agrarian Change 13(1):166-174.  PDF

2013 Declarations of Dependence: Labor, Personhood, and Welfare in Southern Africa. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 19:223-242.  PDF