Category Archives: book review

QA 22 (Mar-Apr 10). Three book reviews (1)

Three recent reviews published in the Cape Times (Cape Town, South Africa)

1. Re-imagining the Social in South Africa: Critique, Theory and Post-apartheid Society (Jacklin and Vale, eds)
2. Nurtureshock: Why everything we think about raising our children is wrong (Bronson & Merryman)
3. Africa: The Politics of Suffering and Smiling (Chabal)

Re-imagining the Social in South Africa: Critique, Theory and Post-apartheid Society
Heather Jacklin and Peter Vale (editors)
University of KwaZulu-Natal Press
Reviewed by Helen Douglas (Cape Times, 1 April 2010)

Ten chapters, eleven academics, all theorising “the social” and the state of “social theory” in South Africa. The immediate question for a non-academic (but sociable) reader trying to make sense of our current muddle: is there something helpful here? Well yes, there is.

Imagine: to form an image in the mind. The many opinions South Africans hold about the state we’re in and where we’re going reflect our own varied states of mind, our dreams and prejudices, what we imagine this country is or has been or is supposed to be.

And there has been a change in the way we have imagined a democratic South Africa, from the experiences of apartheid and struggle though the years of transition from Mandela to Mbeki and now Zuma. It feels like our perhaps naive imaginings hit a wall along the way, and some fresh “re-imagining” is certainly in order. Continue reading

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QA 22 (Mar-Apr 10). Three book reviews (2)

Nurtureshock: Why everything we think about raising our children is wrong
Po Bronson & Ashley Merryman
Ebury Press

Reviewed by Helen Douglas (Cape Times, 12 February 2010)

It’s a close call to say whether Nurtureshock manages to be more informative than it is annoying. The first irritant has to be the subtitle. To whom is this meant to appeal? Insecure parents who are ready to think the worst of themselves? Shame on you!

Once safely past the cover, the book’s premise is straightforward. Parents naturally want to nurture and protect their children, but much of their thinking is “polluted by a hodgepodge of wishful thinking, moralistic biases, contagious fads, personal history and old (disproven) psychology”. Bronson and Merryman, regular contributors to New York Magazine, want to set us straight with this survey of the latest research from the “fascinating new science of children”. Continue reading

QA 22 (Mar-Apr 10). Three book reviews (3)

Africa: The Politics of Suffering and Smiling
Patrick Chabal
UKZN Press and Zed Books
Reviewed by Helen Douglas (Cape Times, 8 January 2010)

As a Canadian immigrant to South Africa, I have struggled mightily to understand post-colonial African politics. I have a feeling I’m not alone. (Colonial politics may have been horrific, but at least it made sense.)

Since independence, we have witnessed an array of socio-political behaviour that evades any such coherence, making it difficult to imagine a way to greater peace and stability in the continent. Political theory imported from the global North doesn’t get us there, demonstrating that its explanatory power does not have universal reach. But Africanist theories, rooted in local understandings of Africa’s difference, have also fallen short – often by trying (and failing) to posit an original and essential Africanness.

Patrick Chabal offers a startling and powerful alternative. Continue reading

QA 16 (July 09) “There was this goat”

There Was This GoatWhat do you do when someone says something to you that you don’t understand?

It happens all the time. The someone may be someone we know or a stranger. The event might be inconsequential or it might be important. It is always unsettling. The usual, easy choice is to let it go by, hoping that the miscommunication will either become clear or fade away in time. The safe choice is to dismiss the other as incomprehensible, or to interpret the misunderstanding away.

The difficult and risky choice is to walk into the confusion and ambiguity of not knowing quite where we stand with this person who is speaking to us. There was this Goat: Investigating the Truth Commission Testimony of Notrose Nobomvu Konile is the story of such an adventure. Continue reading