08Nov 2019

Alte Universität, Rheinsprung

Institute of Social Anthropology

Public event, Guest lecture / Talk

5th JJ Bachofen Lecture: Speaking Through Houses. Interweaving Biography, Property and Personhood in Urban Zimbabwe

Public Lecture by Prof. Dr. Amanda Hammar

Red house

Neither property nor personhood are uncontested concepts or static empirical realities. Each term has its own contextual meanings shaped by specific yet changing historical, spatial, social, cultural, political and economic conditions. The Comaroffs have argued that African notions of personhood are ‘infinitely more complicated’ than the singular, universalising and teleological Euro-American version of ’the autonomous individual’.  Similarly, property in many African and other global South settings is viewed as diverse, dynamic and relational in multiple senses.  This lecture aims to reflect on the dynamic, co-constitutive relationship between property and personhood through applying a relational (ethno)biographical approach to a particular building – in this case a specific house in the urban margins of Bulawayo, Zimbabwe – and the interconnected figures associated with it over four decades, including the researcher herself.  It combines reflexive, interweaving ethnobiographies of the infrastructural and the socially intimate over time, locating these within Zimbabwe’s shifting political, economic and social landscapes since the late 1970 to the present. In doing so, it offers insights into the (sometimes unexpected) ways in which property and personhood in post-colonial settings are influenced by the complex intersections of race, class and gender, and displacement.


Amanda Hammar is Associate Professor and Director of the Centre of African Studies, University of Copenhagen, and current President of the European African Studies Association (AEGIS). Her book publications include Displacement Economies in Africa (2014) and Zimbabwe’s Unfinished Business (2003). Her current research focus includes urban displacement and resettlement, juxtacities, and certifications of citizenship in Africa.

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