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Moments of Freedom

Anthropology and Popular Culture
Johannes Fabian

BUY Paper · 192 pp. · 5.5 × 8.5 · ISBN 9780813917863 · $29.50 · Jul 1998

Johannes Fabian was one of the first anthropologists to introduce the concept of popular culture into the study of contemporary Africa. Drawing on his research in the Shaba region of Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of Congo), he has been writing for thirty years about the practices, beliefs, and objects that make up popular culture in an urban African setting: labor and language, religious movements, theater and storytelling, music and painting, grassroots literacy and historiography.

In Moments of Freedom Fabian reflects on anthropological uses of the concept of popular culture. He retraces how his explorations of popular culture in this urban-industrial setting showed that classiclal culture theory did not account for large aspects of contemporary African life. Popular culture draws on various genres of representation and performance, and Fabian explores the notion of genre itself as it applies to Shaba religious discourse, painting, and the theater. He also addresses the element of time and how spatial thinking about culture, ethnicity, and globalization acts as an obstacle to appreciating the contemporaneity of African popular culture. The volume ends with a discussion of contestation in light of current calls for democratization.

In Moments of Freedom, Johannes Fabian takes stock of decades of anthropological work on popular culture and examines the development of his own thought over time. Throughout the volume, he makes eloquent connections to other firelds such as history, folklore studies, and cultural studies, suggesting areas for further research in each.


Anyone familiar with Professor Fabian's work is unlikely to be surprised by the power of the analysis, the interest of the ethnographic examples, or the range of theoretical questions he explores in this book. It is enormously interesting to see how the changing situation of anthropology and the changing times in Shaba have shaped the work of one of the leading African anthropologists.

K. Anthony Appiah, Harvard University

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