Zombies and Frontiers in the Age of Neoliberalism
Postcolonial South Africa, like other postrevolutionary societies, appears to have witnessed a dramatic rise in occult economies: in the deployment, real or imagined, of magical means for material ends. These embrace a wide range of phenomena, from the ubiquitous presence of thoroughly contemporary zombies, through “ritual murder” and the sale of body parts for “medicinal” purposes, to pyramid schemes and other financial scams. And they have led, in many places, to violent reactions against people accused of illicit accumulation. In the struggles that have ensued, the major lines of opposition have been not race or class but generation—mediated by gender. Why is all this occurring with such intensity, right now? Why has the figure of the zombie taken on such salience at this historical moment? An answer to the question, and to the more general problem of making sense of the enchantments of modernity, is sought in the encounter of rural South Africa with the contradictory effects of millennial capitalism and the culture of neoliberalism. This encounter brings “the global” and “the local”—treated here as imaginative constructs rather than explanatory terms or empirical realities—into a dialectical interplay. It also has implications for the theory- work and methodological practice of the social sciences and humanities in making sense of twenty-first century world, its material, moral, social, and political lineaments.