"A mediating capacity: amandla, sustenance, and transformations of labour in the contemporary South African countryside" by Dr Thomas Cousins

Past Event

02 December 2015, 1:30pm - 3:00pm

64 Banbury Road, Oxford

This lecture is organised by the Institute for Science, Innovation and Society, an Oxford Martin School Institute

Speaker: Dr Thomas Cousins, Department of Sociology and Social Anthropology, Stellenbosch University

Summary: In this presentation, Dr Cousins would like to sketch the outline for a book project in which he examines the emergence of the gut as a new epistemic object in postcolonial South Africa by means of which life, labour, and value are constituted, mediated, and transformed. The narrative moves between fine-grained ethnographic description of a group of women who live and labour in the timber plantations of northern KwaZulu-Natal, and an emerging regime of knowledge of HIV, the immune system, the body and its absorptions. By paying close ethnographic attention to the practices and transformations surrounding nutrition, timber production, and relatedness, the argument he develops turns on the mediations performed by the gut that he understands in terms of a series of imminent semiotic operations. How does value (its production, circulation, absorption, and transformation) intersect with emerging regimes of knowledge of the population and the regulation of health in the ordinary practices of plantation labourers? Dr Cousins traces the emergence of the gut as a new epistemic object through four threads: labour and endurance; substance and kinship; epidemic and evidence; the grammar of hunger; in order to make the case for an anthropology of the gut.

About the speaker

Thomas Cousins is a social anthropologist with particular interests in health, labour, kinship, and science studies. He completed a PhD at Johns Hopkins University in 2012 and now teaches in the Department of Sociology and Social Anthropology at Stellenbosch University. His doctoral dissertation was an ethnography of life around the timber plantations of northern KwaZulu-Natal, focussed on the logic and effects of a nutrition intervention for plantation workers in the context of a crisis of social reproduction and bodily capacity. He continues to conduct fieldwork on the intersections of nutrition and sanitation, the body, politics, and public health.