Issue 17.1, February 2002

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Essay Excerpt

From "Thug Realism: Inhabiting Fantasy in Urban Tanzania" by Brad Weiss

One of the more compelling developments in contemporary sociocultural anthropologyis its increasing attention to "the imagination." From the most spectacularfantasies to the most mundane reveries, imagining the world as it is andas it might be seems to be a rapidly expanding form of activity. Such imaginativeacts are now held to be relevant—indeed necessary—not only to such predictableendeavors as consumption and leisure but to fields as diverse as theconstruction of civil society (Comaroff and Comaroff 1999a), the productionof biomedical knowledge (Martin 1998), and nuclear proliferation (Gusterson1999). This move towards all things imagined has further been characterizedby an important kind of reflexivity, as exploring the complexities of "imaginedcommunities" requires the exercise of the "ethnographic imagination." Indeed,even a cursory review of current ethnographic observations might lead us toconclude that nothing is now unimaginable.