James, Deborah

Professor Deborah James  


Position held

Professor of Anthropology


Experience keywords:

South Africa; anthropology of advice; culture and political economy; debt and indebtedness; ethnomusicology.; labour migration; land reform and relocation; reversionary legislation; symbolism of clothing

Research summary > [Click to expand]

I am an anthropologist of South and southern Africa, where I have done fieldwork in Mpumalanga and Limpopo Provinces and their urban hinterland, the Witwatersrand. My previous book, 'Gaining Ground? "Rights" and "Property" in South African land reform', (Routledge, 2007) shows how mutually constitutive discourses about the ownership, use, and governance of land reveal contradictory understandings of custom, community and citizenship.

My interest in the contestations between state- and market-driven ideologies also encompasses issues relating to reproductive health and HIV-AIDS. Earlier research focused on ethnicity, migration, and musical performance: in 'Songs of the Women Migrants' (Edinburgh, 1999) I explored how women migrants from the Northern Province defined themselves as ethnic subjects through musical performance.

I am also interested in comparative insights into the state, law, civil society, and religion: both in postcolonial settings and in the UK, and co-edited a volume called 'Apartheid of Souls' which brought together scholars on Indonesia and South Africa.

In 2002-03, I conducted ESRC-funded research on 'Property, Community, and Citizenship in South Africa's Land Reform Programme', and am currently director of an ESRC funded project on 'Investing, engaging in enterprise, gambling and getting into debt: popular economies and citizen expectations in South Africa'.

Countries and regions to which research relates:

South Africa; UK; southern Africa


Afrikaans [Spoken: Intermediate, Written: Intermediate]; French [Spoken: Basic, Written: Intermediate]; Northern Sotho [Spoken: Basic, Written: Basic]; Spanish [Spoken: Basic, Written: Intermediate]

Media experience:

Radio; TV

Contact Points

LSE phone number:

+44 (0)20 7955 7215

Alt phone number:

+44 (0)20 7955 7603



Forbess, Alice and James, Deborah (2017) The end of austerity? Not for the most needy British Politics and Policy at LSE (5 Jan 2017) Blog entry

James, Deborah (2017) Not marrying in South Africa: consumption, aspiration and the new middle class Anthropology Southern Africa, 40 (1). 1-14. ISSN 2332-3256

James, Deborah (2017) Mediating Indebtedness in South Africa Ethnos. ISSN 0014-1844

James, Deborah (2017) Undoing apartheid? From land reform to credit reform in South Africa In: Christophers, Brett and Mann, Geoff and Leyshon, Andrew, (eds.) Money and Finance After the Crisis: Critical Thinking for Uncertain Times. Wiley-Blackwell, London, UK. ISBN 9781119051435

James, Deborah (2017) Deductions and counter-deductions in South Africa HAU: Journal of Ethnographic Theory, 7 (3). 281-304. ISSN 2049-1115


James, Deborah (2015) Money from nothing: indebtedness and aspiration in South Africa Stanford University Press, Palo Alto. ISBN 9780804792677

James, Deborah (2015) 'Women use their strength in the house': savings clubs in an Mpumalanga village Journal of Southern African Studies, 41 (5). 1035-1052. ISSN 0305-7070


James, Deborah and Rajak, Dinah (2014) Debt or savings? Of migrants, mines and money In: Rankin-Smith, Fiona and Phillips, Laura and Delius, Peter, (eds.) A long way home: migrant worker worlds 1800-2014. Wits University Press, Johannesburg, South Africa. ISBN 9871868147670

Phillips, Laura and James, Deborah (2014) Labour, lodging and linkages: migrant women's experience in South Africa African Studies, 73 (3). 410-431. ISSN 0002-0184

James, Deborah and Rajak, Dinah (2014) Credit apartheid, migrants, mines and money African Studies, 73 (3). 455-476. ISSN 0002-0184

James, Deborah (2014) 'Deeper into a hole?': borrowing and lending in South Africa Current Anthropology, 55 (S9). 17-29. ISSN 0011-3204

Forbess, Alice and James, Deborah (2014) Acts of assistance: navigating the interstices of the British state with the help of non-profit legal advisers Social Analysis, 58 (3). 73-89. ISSN 0155-977X


James, Deborah (2013) Regulating credit: tackling the redistributiveness of neoliberalism Anthropology of This Century, 6. ISSN 2047-6345

James, Deborah (2013) Citizenship and land in South Africa: from rights to responsibilities Critique of Anthropology, 33 (1). 26-46. ISSN 0308-275X


James, Deborah (2012) LSE Research: The explosion of debt in South Africa Africa at LSE (5 Mar 2012) Blog entry

Hull, Elizabeth and James, Deborah (2012) Introduction: popular economies in South Africa Africa: the Journal of the International African Institute, 82 (01). 1-19. ISSN 0001-9720

James, Deborah and Killick, Evan (2012) Empathy and expertise: case workers and immigration/asylum applicants in London Law and Social Inquiry, 37 (2). 430-455. ISSN 0897-6546

James, Deborah (2012) Money-go-round: personal economies of wealth, aspiration and indebtedness Africa: the Journal of the International African Institute, 82 (01). 20-40. ISSN 0001-9720


James, Deborah and Forbess, Alice (2011) Rights, welfare and law. Legal aid advocacy in austerity Britain The London School of Economics and Political Science, London, UK.

James, Deborah (2011) The return of the broker: consensus, hierarchy and choice in South African land reform Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, 17 (2). 318-338. ISSN 1359-0987

James, Deborah (2011) Tenure reformed: planning for redress or progress in South Africa Focaal: Journal of Global and Historical Anthropology, 61 (Winter). 19-32. ISSN 0920-1297

James, Deborah and McNeill, Fraser G. (2011) Singing songs of AIDS in Venda, South Africa: performance, pollution and ethnomusicology in a ‘neo-liberal’ setting In: Barz, Gregory, (ed.) The Culture of AIDS: Hope and Healing Through the Arts in Africa. Oxford University Press, Oxford, UK, 193-212.


James, Deborah and Toren, Christina (2010) Introduction: culture, context and anthropologists’ accounts Berghahn Books, Oxford, UK. ISBN 9781845456412

James, Deborah (2010) 'Doing business with a development ethic’: new look land redistribution in South Africa In: Freund, Bill and Witt, Harald, (eds.) Development Dilemmas in Post-Apartheid South Africa. University of KwaZulu-Natal, Pietermaritzburg, South Africa. ISBN 9781869141899

Fay, Derrick and James, Deborah (2010) Giving land back or righting wrongs? Comparative issues in the study of land restitution In: Walker, Cherryl and Bohlin, Anna and Hall, Ruth and Kepe, Thembela, (eds.) Land, Memory, Reconstruction, and Justice: Perspectives on Land Claims in South Africa. Ohio University Press, Athens, USA, 41-61. ISBN 9780821419274

James, Deborah and Killick, Evan (2010) Ethical dilemmas? UK immigration, Legal Aid funding reform and caseworkers Anthropology Today, 26 (1). 13-16. ISSN 1467-8322


James, Deborah (2009) David Webster: an activist anthropologist twenty years on African Studies, 68 (2). 287-297. ISSN 0002-0184

James, Deborah (2009) David Webster: a postscript English translation of “Posfácio: David Webster” In: Webster, David J., (ed.) A Sociedade Chope: Indívíduo e Aliança No Sul De Moçambique (1969-1976). Imprensa de Ciências Sociais, Lisbon, Portugal. ISBN 9789726712213

James, Deborah (2009) Burial sites, informal rights and lost kingdoms: the contesting of land claims in Mpumalanga, South Africa Africa, 79 (2). 228-251. ISSN 1750-0184


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, 1-24. ISBN 9780415461085

Fay, Derrick and James, Deborah, eds (2008) The rights and wrongs of land restitution: ‘restoring what was ours’ Routledge, London, UK. ISBN 9780415461085

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. 1-30. ISSN 0258-509X


Comaroff, John L and Comaroff, Jean and James, Deborah, eds (2007) Picturing a colonial past: the African photographs of Isaac Schapera University of Chicago Press, Chicago. ISBN 0226114120

James, Deborah (2007) Property and citizenship in South African land reform In: Dorman, Sara and Hammett, Daniel and Nugent, Paul, (eds.) Making Nations, Creating Strangers. African social studies series (16). Brill, Leiden, The Netherlands, 123-144. ISBN 9004157905


James, Deborah (2006) Gaining ground: ’rights’ and ’property’ in South African land reform Routledge-Cavendish, Abingdon. ISBN 9781904385622

James, Deborah (2006) Black background: life history and migrant women’s music in South Africa In: Reily, Suzel, (ed.) The Musical Human: Rethinking John Blacking's Ethnomusicology in the 21st Century. SOAS musicology series. Ashgate, Aldershot, UK, 71-86. ISBN 075465138X

James, Deborah (2006) The tragedy of the private: owners, communities and the state in South Africa's land reform programme In: Benda-Beckmann, Franz von and Benda-Beckmann, Keebet von and Wiber, Melanie G., (eds.) Changing Properties of Property. Berghahn, Oxford, UK, 243-268. ISBN 1845451392


James, Deborah (2005) Pedi women and Kiba performance In: Lucia, Christine, (ed.) The World of South African Music: a Reader. Cambridge Scholars Publishers, Newcastle upon Tyne, 272-278. ISBN 1904303366

James, Deborah (2005) Civil society in South Africa In: Glasius, Marlies and Lewis, David and Seckinelgin, Hakan, (eds.) Exploring Civil Society: Political and Cultural Contexts. Routledge, London, 149-153. ISBN 9780415325455


James, Deborah and Schrauwers, Albert (2003) An apartheid of souls: Dutch and Afrikaner colonialism and its aftermath in Indonesia and South Africa – an introduction Itinerario, 27 (3/4). 49-80. ISSN 0165-1153

James, Deborah and Mphahle Nkadimeng, Geoffrey (2003) The land and the word: missions, African Christians, and the claiming of land in South Africa In: Draper, Jonathan, (ed.) Orality, Literacy and Colonialism in Southern Africa. Semeia Studies (46). Society of Biblical Literature, Leiden, 111-134. ISBN 9781589831179

James, Deborah and Nkadimeng, Geoffrey (2003) 'A sentimental attachment to the neighbourhood': African Christians and land claims in South Africa Itinerario, 27 (3/4). 243-262. ISSN 0165-1153


James, Deborah (2002) “To take the information down to the people” : life skills and HIV/AIDS peer educators in the Durban area African Studies, 61 (1). 169-191. ISSN 1469-2872

James, Deborah (2002) 'Human rights' or 'property'? State, society, and the landless in South Africa Human Rights Institute, Storrs, Connecticut, USA.


Kaarsholm, Preben and James, Deborah (2001) Cultura popolare, sviluppo e democrazia: un'introduzione al dibattito Afriche e Orienti, 2. 4-13. ISSN 1592-6753

James, Deborah and Kaufman, Carol (2001) The reproductive consequences of shifting ethnic identity in South Africa In: Makhlouf Obermeyer, Carla, (ed.) Cultural Perspectives on Reproductive Health. Oxford University Press, Oxford, 193-220. ISBN 9780199246892

James, Deborah (2001) Land for the landless : conflicting images of rural and urban in South Africa’s land reform programme Journal of Contemporary African Studies, 19 (1). 93 -109. ISSN 1469-9397


Kaarsholm, Preben and James, Deborah (2000) Popular culture and democracy in some southern contexts: an introduction Journal of Southern African Studies, 26 (2). 189-208. ISSN 0305-7070

James, Deborah (2000) Sister, spouse, lazy woman: commentaries on domestic predicaments by Kiba performers from the Northern Province In: Brown, Duncan, (ed.) Oral Literature and Performance in Southern Africa. James Currey Ltd., Oxford, UK, 176-194. ISBN 0852555547

James, Deborah (2000) Hill of thorns : custom, knowledge and the reclaiming of a lost land in the new South Africa Development and Change, 31 (3). 629-649. ISSN 0012-155X

James, Deborah (2000) "After years in the wilderness" : the discourse of land claims in the new South Africa Journal of Peasant Studies, 27 (3). 142-161. ISSN 0306-6150


James, Deborah (1999) Songs of the women migrants: performance and identity in South Africa International African library. Edinburgh University Press, Edinburgh. ISBN 9780748613045

James, Deborah (1999) Bagagešu / those of my home : migrancy, gender and ethnicity in the Northern Province, South Africa American Ethnologist, 26 (1). 69-89. ISSN 0094-0496


James, Deborah (1997) 'Music of origin': class, social category and the performers and audience of "Kiba", a South African migrant genre Africa: the Journal of the International African Institute, 67 (3). 454-475. ISSN 0001-9720


James, Deborah (1996) 'I dress in this fashion' transformations in sotho dress and women's lives in a Sekhukhuneland village, South Africa In: Hendrickson, Hildi, (ed.) Clothing and Difference: EMBOdied Identities in Colonial and Post-Colonial Africa. Duke University Press, Durham, USA, 34-65. ISBN 0822317915


James, Deborah (1994) Basadi ba baeng/visiting women: female migrant performance from the Northern Transvaal In: Gunner, Elizabeth, (ed.) Politics and Performance: Theatre, Poetry and Song in Southern Africa. Witwatersrand University Press, Johannesburg, South Africa, 81-110. ISBN 1868142140


James, Deborah (1991) Songs of town & country: the experience of migrant men and women from the Northern Transvaal. In: African Studies Seminar, 6 May 1991, Johannesburg, South Africa


James, Deborah (1990) Musical form and social history: research perspectives on black South African music Radical History Review (46/47). 309-319. ISSN 0163-6545

James, Deborah (1990) A question of ethnicity: Ndzundza Ndebele in a Lebowa village Journal of Southern African Studies, 16 (1). 33-54. ISSN 0305-7070


James, Deborah (1988) Land shortage and inheritance in a Lebowa village Social Dynamics, 14 (2). 36-51. ISSN 0253-3952


James, Deborah Ann (1987) Kinship and land in an inter-ethnic rural community masters thesis, University of Witwatersrand

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