Home > Anthropology > People > Professor Deborah James

Pedi house, Sephaku (traditional style)

House with gate, Sephaku

Click here to see Professor James's fieldwork photos|

Professor James on LSE Experts Online|

Professor James on BBC Radio 4's 'Thinking Allowed'|
Professor James discusses South African land reform (broadcast 27 June and 01 July 2007).

Popular economies and citizen expectations in South Africa| ESRC-funded project

Professor Deborah James

JamesI am a specialist in the anthropology of South and Southern Africa, where much of my fieldwork has been conducted in Mpumalanga and Northern Provinces and their urban hinterland, the Witwatersrand. My work is broadly political and economic in focus. My most recent monograph, Gaining Ground? "Rights" and "Property" in South African land reform (Routledge, 2007), based on ESRC-funded research in 2002-3, shows how mutually constitutive discourses about the ownership, use, and governance of land reveal contradictory understandings of custom, community and citizenship. A related book, but with a comparative remit, is The Rights And Wrongs Of Land Restitution: 'Restoring What Was Ours' (Routledge, 2009), edited with Derick Fay. My interest in the contestations between state- and market-driven ideologies also encompasses issues relating to reproductive health and HIV-AIDS.

Exploring the relationship between anthropologists' ethnographic investigations and the lived social worlds in which these originate, I was co-editor with Christina Toren and Evie Plaice of Culture Wars: Context, Models, and Anthropologists' Accounts (Berghahn, 2010). Where some claim that only native voices may offer authentic accounts of culture and hence that ethnographers are only ever interpreters of it, others point out that anthropologists are, themselves, implanted within specific cultural contexts which generate particular kinds of theoretical discussions. The contributors to the volume reject the premise that ethnographer and informant occupy different and incommensurable "cultural worlds." Instead they investigate the relationship between culture, context, and anthropologists' models and accounts in new ways. In doing so, they offer fresh insights into this key area of anthropological research. (The volume is also a celebration of the work of Adam Kuper, my PhD supervisor.)

My earlier research focused on ethnicity, migration, and musical performance: in Songs of the Women Migrants (Edinburgh, 1999) I looked at how women migrants from the Northern Province defined themselves as ethnic subjects through song and musical performance. I am also interested in comparative insights into the state, law, civil society, and religion in postcolonial settings, and was co-editor of a volume called "Apartheid of Souls" which brought together scholars on Indonesia and South Africa. In 2007-8 I was principle investigator with Evan Killick on a British Academy-funded project entitled "Asylum law in question: ethnography of access to justice in a London Law Centre", which resulted in two articles.

Moving to new interests, I have just completed an ESRC-funded project entitled "Investing, engaging in enterprise, gambling and getting into debt: popular economies and citizen expectations in South Africa". My own research on the project was concerned with consumer indebtedness. My LSE co-researchers were Fraser McNeill, Ilana van Wyk and Elizabeth Hull, and research partners were Detlev Krige (Rhodes University), David Neves (PLAAS, UWC, and Erik Baehre (Leiden University). Some of the results were published in a special issue of Africa in 2012. http://journals.cambridge.org/action/displayIssue?iid=8477176|

Others, including a dissemination workshop held in Johannesburg, can be found on the website


Selected publications:

2011 "The return of the broker: consensus, hierarchy and choice in South African land reform|" JRAI 17, 318-338.

2010 (with Evan Killick) "Ethical dilemmas? UK immigration, legal aid funding reform, and case workers|" Anthropology Today 26(1):13-15.

2009 "Burial Sites, Informal Rights and Lost Kingdoms: the contesting of land claims in Mpumalanga, South Africa|" Africa 79(2):228-51.

Deborah James, Evelyn Plaice and Christina Toren (eds.) (2010) Culture Wars:
Context, Models and Anthropologists' Accounts.
Berghahn Books.

Deborah James, "David Webster: an activist anthropologist twenty years on", African Studies, 68 (2) : 287-93, 2009
http://eprints.lse.ac.uk/30974/ |

James, Deborah (2009) Burial sites, informal rights and lost kingdoms: the contesting of land claims in Mpumalanga, South Africa. Africa, 79 . pp. 228-251. ISSN 1750-0184
http://www.eupjournals.com/doi/abs/10.3366/E0001972009000709 |

McNeill, Fraser G. and James, Deborah (2008) Singing songs of AIDS in Venda, South Africa: performance, pollution and ethnomusicology in a 'neo-liberal' setting. South African music studies, 28 . pp. 1-30. ISSN 0258-509X 
http://www.ajol.info/index.php/samus/article/view/44072| The Culture of AIDS in Africa: Hope and Healing Through Music and the Arts
Edited by Gregory Barz and Judah M. Cohen (Oxford, Oxford University Press)http://www.us.oup.com/us/catalog/general/subject/Music/WorldMusicEthnomusicology/?view=usa&sf=toc&ci=9780199744473|

Fay, Derrick   and   James, Deborah   (2008) The anthropology of land restitution: an introduction. In:   Fay, Derrick   and James, Deborah , (eds.) The rights and wrongs of land restitution: 'restoring what was ours'. Routledge, London, UK, pp. 1-24. ISBN 9780415461085

2008 "Posfácio: David Webster" in David J Webster A Sociedade Chope: Indívíduo e Aliança no sul de Moçambique (1969-1976) Ed. João de Pina Cabral, Transl. Catarina Mira. Lisbon, Imprensa de Ciências Sociais.

2007 (ed. with Jean and John L Comaroff) Picturing the Colonial Past: the African photographs of Isaac Schapera, Chicago, University of Chicago Press. http://press.uchicago.edu/ucp/books/book/chicago/P/bo5298980.html|

2007. Gaining ground? "Rights" and "property" in South African land reform. London: Routledge. 

2006. The tragedy of the private: Owners, communities, and the state in South Africa. In Changing properties of property, F. von Benda Beckmann, B. von Benda Beckmann, and M. Wiber (eds). Oxford: Berghahn Books.

2005 "Black Background: life history and migrant women's music in South Africa" in
The Musical Human: Rethinking John Blacking's ethnomusicology in the 21st century, Aldershot, Ashgate, pp71-86
http://eprints.lse.ac.uk/806/1/06Chapter_04_(2).pdf |

2005. Civil society in South Africa. In Exploring civil society: Political and cultural contexts, M. Glasius, D. Lewis, and H. Seckinelgin (eds). London: Routledge. 
http://www.taylorandfrancis.co.uk/shopping_cart/products/product_detail.asp?sku=&isbn=0415325463&pc= |

James, Deborah, Ngonini, Alex Xola and Nkadimeng, Geoffrey Mphahle (2005) (Re)constituting class? owners, tenants and the politics of land reform in Mpumalanga. Journal of South African studies, 31 (4). pp. 825-844. ISSN 0305-7070
http://eprints.lse.ac.uk/2668/1/Reconstituting_Class.pdf |

2003. (with Albert Schrauwers) An Apartheid of souls: Dutch and Afrikaner colonialism and its aftermath in Indonesia and South Africa: an Introduction. In An Apartheid of souls: Dutch colonialism and its aftermath in Indonesia and South Africa, D. James and A. Schrauwers (eds). [Special issue, Itinerario: European Journal of Overseas History 27(3/4).]
http://eprints.lse.ac.uk/3001/1/An_apartheid_of_souls_(LSERO).pdf |

2000. "Hill of thorns": Custom, knowledge and the reclaiming of a lost land in the new South Africa. Development and Change 31(3): 629-49. http://eprints.lse.ac.uk/790/1/hill_of_thorns.pdf |

2000. (with Preben Kaarsholm) Popular culture and democracy in some southern contexts. Journal of Southern African Studies 26(2): 189-208.
http://eprints.lse.ac.uk/792/1/popular_culture%26democracy.pdf |

1999. Songs of the women migrants: Performance and identity in South Africa. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.
http://www.internationalafricaninstitute.org/publishing/library.html |or http://www.eupjournals.com/book/9780748613045 |

1996 " 'I dress in this fashion': transformations in sotho dress and women's lives in a Sekhukhuneland village, South Africa" Hendrickson, H (ed) Clothing and Difference: embodied identities in colonial and post-colonial Africa, Duke University Press, Durham.
http://eprints.lse.ac.uk/6185/1/I_dress_in_this_fashion_(LSERO).pdf |

James, Deborah (1990) Musical form and social history: research perspectives on black South African music. Radical history review (46/47). pp. 309-319. http://eprints.lse.ac.uk/24684/|  


Fieldwork Photos

Jan Masina, squatter leader and spokesman

Angel tombstone, Doornkop

Doornkop group picture with Pentecostal missionaries

SK Alex women drummer and solo singer in performance


Men's Kiba: the regimental song Monti, Alexandra Township, Johannesburg

Women's Kiba: Ditshweu tsa Malebogo performing at Funda Centre, Soweto