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Haverford College
Department of Anthropology
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Faculty: Research: Zolani Philemon Ngwane

Zolani Philemon Ngwane

My research has gone through roughly four overlapping phases since I came to Haverford in 2000. The first phase revolved around my historical ethnography of the University of Fort Hare, the first institution of higher education established for black South Africans (1916). I was concerned with how South African universities understood their place in the post-apartheid era and the process and politics of transforming themselves accordingly. At the center of this concern about institutional transformation was the question of how education becomes implicated in the formation and transformation of political subjects. I published some of this research in articles.

The second phase began with an attempt to broaden the scope of my interest in social reproduction from education and religion to embrace other social institutions such as chiefly courts and male initiation schools. By viewing social institutions like schools, churches, initiation rites and chiefly courts as doing comparable work (conferring a social identity) on the same human bodies I could explore how the social meanings that schooling, for example, mediates change depending on how people view and utilize schooling in relation to other local social institutions. I looked at these institutional practices comparatively in relation to changing generational politics, particularly between younger and older men, in the context in which education was no longer a guarantee for employment for young people and where older men were systematically losing jobs following an economic recession that peaked in the late 1980s. I published three articles on these themes of reproduction and change, generational conflicts and social subjectivity, based on research in both urban and rural contexts. Some of this work addresses questions of gender and masculinity.

In the 1990s it was difficult to do research in South Africa without confronting the reality of the HIV/AIDS epidemic. It was impossible for me to avoid this problem because it not only affected a population with which I was working the most – young people – but it was also changing the very subject of anthropology; the ways in which people think, talk about, and act in, their world. When the opportunity arose to collaborate on a grant proposal with colleagues from the University of Pennsylvania, University of Fort Hare and the Centers for Disease Control in 2001 I grabbed it. The proposal was for a five year HIV prevention intervention with adolescents in South Africa and was funded by the National Institutes of Health in 2002. This project was completed in 2007 and there are currently three collaborated papers under review. In 2007 we received another five year grant for work with adult heterosexual males. This was the third phase of my research. This work has been significant in my growth as an academic and activist.

The last phase of my research begins with work on my book manuscript. In my book I examine South African nation building during the 1990s. I look at processes of transformation taking place at Fort Hare as a contestation over the terms of producing post-apartheid educated national subjects. This research participates in conversations happening with a larger body of literature on the politics of nation building in the era of neo-liberal capitalism.