Publisher: African Studies Association

The Ordeal of Modernity In An Age of Terror

Bruce J. Berman
KEYWORDS: The Ordeal of Modernity in an Age of Terror


Sometime during the increasingly tense European summer of 1938, the Anglo-Polish anthropologist Bronislaw Malinowski sat down to write an introduction to a new book by one of his students, Jomo Kenyatta—a book based on the graduate thesis the latter had written under his supervision at the London School of Economics. A scientific rationalist and atheist, as well as an antiracist, antifascist, and anticommunist, Malinowski was most of all in that fraught time a deeply frightened liberal watching Europe slide into war. During the 1930s he had shifted his focus from the South Pacific to Africa. Over the course of that decade he had become increasingly critical of European colonialism, particularly of what he regarded as its deeply destructive impact on indigenous societies. In his brief introductory essay, Malinowski reflected on Kenyatta's work and, no doubt, on their many long conversations during the three years Kenyatta had studied with him. He commented on the dilemma of the educated African who had “suffered the injury of higher education” and noted that “an African who looks at things from the tribal point of view and at the same time from that of Western civilization experiences the tragedy of the modern world in an especially acute manner” (1938:ix).

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