Engaging Colonial Nostalgia:

William Cunningham Bissell

When contemporary Africans express nostalgia for the colonial past, how are we to make sense of such sentiments? Anthropologists have tended to ignore colonial nostalgia, reacting with dismissal or distaste. This article seeks to account for this avoidance, exploring nostalgia as a crucial source for anthropology and a constitutive feature of Western modernity. Nostalgic sentiments of loss and longing are shaped by specific cultural concerns and struggles; like other forms of memory practice, these desires must be engaged with in ethnographic terms and located within the changing contours of a contested social landscape. In urban Zanzibar, I argue that colonial nostalgia has emerged in a postrevolutionary context and is best understood as a diverse set of responses to neoliberal policies of urban restructuring.

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