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Self in the World: Connecting Life's Extremes

By Keith Hart | Reviewed by: Olatoun Gabi-Williams

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Self in the World: Connecting Life's Extremes


Part 1 of Keith Hart's Self in the World is entitled Ancestors. It is divided into 3 chapters Writing the Self: A Genealogy, Anthropology's Forgotten Founders and The Anti-Colonial Intellectuals: Thinking New Worlds.

The men he profiles here are his heroes (where are the women?). In their various fields, these personalities are world renowned for contributions that have shifted paradigms and defined eras. Ancestors include Nigeria's foremost novelist, Chinua Achebe; the world-famous Russian novelist, Vladimir Nabokov; Henry Adams, American historian and descendant of 2 US Presidents; Benjamin Franklin, a founding father of America; the Swiss philosopher, Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Michel de Montaigne, great philosopher of France's Renaissance era.

Self in the World: Connecting Life's Extremes, stands on the shoulders of memoirs written by these men. Amongst them is a long line of anthropologists to whom he pays tribute. They include France's Marcel Mauss whom he ranks as 'the most important of anthropolgy's modern founders'.

Great leaders of Pan-Africanism feature prominently in the inspiringly sub-titled section Thinking New Worlds:

William Edward Burghardt Du Bois
W.E.B. Du Bois was an American sociologist, socialist, historian and Pan-Africanist
civil rights activist. He was a founder of the National Association
for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP)
and worked with Nkrumah in Ghana shortly before he died.

America's W.E.B Du Bois, who co-founded the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People [NAACP]

C.L.R James
C.L.R James was a Trinidadian writer and political activist.
His work is a staple of Marxism and an influential voice in post-colonial literature.
In 1937 he published World Revolution, a history of the communist international.
In his best-known book, The Black Jacobins (1938), he rescued the Haitian slave
revolution from oblivion and used it to argue presciently for an anti-colonial
revolution in Africa soon. He nourished several African leaders,
including Jomo Kenyatta and Kwame Nkrumah.

Frantz Fannon
Frantz Fanon was a West Indian psychiatrist and political
philosopher from the French colony of Martinique. As a participant in the
Algerian war of independence, he became a Pan-Africanist. His showed that
racism and capitalism were an explosive combination and that dehumanized
colonial subjects had the drive to throw out their oppressors. His The Wretched of the Earth
is possibly the most influential work to come out of the turmoil of the 1950s.

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Considered the most important economic anthropologist of the last 50 years, Keith Hart is best known for coining the concept of the informal economy based on his 1960s study of economic activities among rural migrants in Accra, Ghana. It has since become an established area of Development Studies.

By situating his memoir in the biographical traditions he presents in Part 1, Hart demonstrates connection and kinship across time and distance within a lineage rooted not in class or biology but in a dedication to lofty - yet grounded- planetary quests.

Keith plays Oware in Nima, Ghana
Keith plays Oware in Nima, Ghana

Driving the work of this scholarly pantheon is an urgent quest: to "find our way to humanity". [So evocative of Rumi's heavenly vision of man's earthly quest: I came to this earth so that I could find my way to my Beloved ]

A pathway to humanity promoted in Hart's book is the pathway of personal connection with the world. It necessitates an engagement with the human condition as a whole. The book's title reflects this value and Self in the World, an astonishing and generous book, is organized around this principle. Scroll down the table of contents to find in its sequence a mirror of our journey into self and out into the world.

Self in the World: Connecting Life's Extremes, is an important book through which Keith Hart bequeaths to us autobiographical material which not only immerses us but brings us into larger intellectual speculations about the world we live in.

How to remedy some of the ills of the planet we inhabit? He offers illumination. The informal economy is bedlam; it has taken over the world! Hart comforts us with recommendations rooted in an economic wisdom acquired over many years. When he shares tales about his lapses into debilitating mental illness followed by revivals of good health, it is to channel hope: there is for those who have faith and fight, life after death. He addresses human development in terms of economies of scale and recommends we practice scaling ourselves up while scaling down the world around us: a wily device of perspective. The result is that rather than feeling overpowered by the world around us, we feel empowered - on top of its vastness and chaos.

No two life journeys are the same. In Self in the World, Hart underlines the plenty we have in common while recognizing the uniqueness of each of us as individuals. Numerous examples of that uniqueness are taken from his own life. For example, his peculiar, cosmopolitan history. He is no longer just a local man (at home with loved ones), he has become a global man with a range of specific and deep needs which will be met only if he divides his time between various locations - Durban, Cambridge, Paris and elsewhere. Only Keith Hart knows how uncommon a life Keith Hart has led and a unique, uncommon vision of himself in the world is a bequest of this memoir. It is bursting with life - multiple lives - and it is the best kind of memoir - one which helps each of his readers acquire a clearer picture of our own place in the world.

It is inspiring to see how Keith Hart rejects - to paraphrase - the blinkered habits of specialists, inviting and celebrating instead unwieldy thought and wild exploration and teachers! Let children be children. A passionate humanist, social and economic justice for the world is the quest into which he has invested his formidable intellectual energy. His desire is that humanity achieve the fullness and stature of its humanity. The memoir foregrounds the place of movement in healthy human life. He argues "that freedom of movement, not a static concern with the preservation of individual identity should be reinstated as humanity's priority in the drive to make a viable world society" and he issues a call to action: "If movement is a problem, we urgently need to redress the inequality that causes it"

Keith at Ikes bookshop
Keith Hart was Centennial Professor in International Development
at the London School of Economics and a founder and director of the
Human Economy Program at the University of Pretoria, South Africa

He proudly sources his thinking in everything and from everywhere, adventuring where angels fear to tread. I'm thinking of his years of living dangerously as a 20 something year old in the slums of Ghana. But of the myriad, inspiring parts of the book written not in academese but written for the layman with intelligible and refreshing candour, it is his engagement with modern Africa that is for me the most compelling.

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About the Trailer

The short video featured here was conceived as a trailer to the extensive print interviews which revisit, Self in the World: Connecting Life's Extremes. The trailer highlights the possibilities of a bright economic future for Africa and her place in the world.

I hope you enjoy hearing from Professor Hart about Africa's Coming Revolution in the 21st Century.

Olatoun Gabi-Williams
Reviewed by Olatoun Gabi-Williams
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