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Divine Detection: Crime and the Metaphysics of Disorder

10th Annual Center for Law, History and Culture Distinguished Law and Humanities Lecture

University of Chicago Professor John Comaroff considers the relation of law enforcement and sovereignty in post-apartheid South Africa.

Walter Benjamin famously insisted that modern police wielded a “ghostly,” all-pervasive violence, called upon at points at which the state was unable to govern by legal means. Yet many African post-colonies are haunted by a different specter: the waning efficacy of enforcement, the ambiguity of authority, and the apparent abandonment of subjects by the state.

This lecture, part of a larger work titled “The Truth About Crime,” examines the relation of law enforcement and sovereignty in post-apartheid South Africa. It focuses on the “metaphysics of disorder” palpable in popular culture there, and the kinds of forensic fetishes that are conjured in its wake.