Graham A. Duncan. Lovedale--Coercive Agency: Power and Resistance in Mission Education. Pietermaritzburg: Cluster Publications, 2003. xii + 427 pp. Price not listed (paper), ISBN 978-1-875053-36-0.
Reviewed by Tolly Bradford (Department of History and Classics, University of Alberta)
Published on H-SAfrica (May, 2005)
A History for Theology
The Lovedale Missionary Institute was a great success for Christian missions in South Africa. Started in 1841 by Scottish missionaries wanting "native teachers, preachers and ordained ministers," by 1900 Lovedale was the most important training ground for a black Christian elite that later played a pivotal role in twentieth-century South African politics. Giving students a mixture of academic and industrial education, Lovedale was (and still is) held-up as one the most impressive products of Cape liberalism. Yet the school remains under-examined by scholars. Until now, the only full-length study of Lovedale was Robert Shepherd's 1940 hagiography. Shepherd, principal of the school from 1942 to 1955, wrote with a pro-Lovedale bias and without the benefit of the historiography about both missions and South Africa that has emerged since the 1970s. Using some of this historiography, particularly the theoretical insights of Jean and John Comaroff, Graham A. Duncan's Lovedale--Coercive Agency aims to update Shepherd's account by looking more critically at the school's relationship to colonialism.
Duncan's argument is that Lovedale was a "total Institution" using "coercive agency" (i.e. hegemony) to make African students internalize the values of the European civilizing mission. He suggests that although the "indigenous personality and traditional lifestyle [of students were] ... largely obliterated" (p. ix) by the school, some graduates did resist its negative effects. Covering the years 1841 to 1930, the bulk of the book is arranged chronologically. After opening chapters outline the theoretical statement of the work, Duncan presents the core of his discussion: how the first three principals ran Lovedale as a "total institution." Although each principal added his own approach to running the school, Duncan argues that the basic structure of the institution remained the same: discipline, industrial education and the control of time, space, and dress shaped the environment of the school allowing it to enact "coercive agency" over students. Duncan is determined to show the continuity of "coercive agency" in the history of Lovedale; this determination makes his argument clear but not convincing. The brief discussions of resistance look at ways students and graduates challenged the hegemony of the school but could not shape the institution. While the chapter on James Henderson (principal from 1905 to 1930) uses archival sources, much of the book relies on secondary works to make its case.
On the whole, Duncan's study is more interesting as theology than history. In the final chapter, Duncan argues that education in post-apartheid South Africa should be "community-based" and Christian (pp. 389-391). This may be valid, but the effect is that the Lovedale of the previous three hundred pages becomes a foil for a theological argument. By emphasizing the "total institution" of the historical Lovedale Duncan idealizes a community-based, Christian-influenced school as the best way to educate the future South Africa. As past missionary-in-charge at Lovedale and current professor of theology at the University of Pretoria, Duncan has an interest in upholding the place of Christianity in South African education. Throughout the book he explains how Christianity was part of the country's colonial past and how it can be extricated from this past and used in a post-apartheid future. The problem is, this approach makes for poor history: specifically, Duncan overplays the power of Lovedale administrators while overlooking the influence of other historical actors on Lovedale--namely students, white settlers and colonial and state governments. Theories of power and hegemony have a place in the history of institutions like Lovedale, but so do the voices of people being taught at, and living around, the school. With his focus on contemporary theological issues and poststructural theory, Duncan gives us a rather narrow vision of Lovedale.
Perspectives are important in any history of Lovedale. Duncan wants us to see that students were internalizing western values; he successfully shows how the school organized the daily schedule, dress, and activities of students but not how these students reacted. The voice of the students is needed to complete this history. Duncan is probably correct to say that principals William Govan (1841-1870), James Stewart (1870-1905), and James Henderson (1905-1930) wanted to make students internalize the values of western lifestyle, but whether this was actually achieved is unclear. Looking carefully at the writing and lives of Lovedale graduates like Tiyo Soga, D. D. T. Jabavu, Modiri Molema, and Z. K. Matthews would go some way to bringing this history full circle. Looking briefly at some of these people, Duncan categorizes their activities as examples of either "resistance" or "compliance" (pp.182, 209-213). But is there not a middle ground here? Could the students be doing both? Could their opinions have shaped the way the school operated? Duncan's study of resistance is useful, but more might have been done to weave this discussion into the main argument of the book, the school's relative ability to enact a kind of "coercive agency"/hegemony over students. Duncan's uncritical use of the Comaroffs gets him into trouble here; a closer reading of the Comaroffs--and their critics--would alert Duncan to the problems of ignoring the voice of the so-called "colonized" when discussing hegemony.
Analysis of James Henderson's tenure is the book's strength. In this chapter the reader gets the sense that Lovedale was pressured by different groups--government officials, the black elite, British mission societies, and white liberals--to be different things (pp. 348-353). Henderson, Duncan hints, was caught in the middle of these pressures, trying to continue the "coercive agency" that produced the black elite while having to justify this education to an increasingly racist South African government. This kind of detailed understanding of the power struggles shaping Lovedale is needed throughout the book. That Christianity fits into these power struggles, as a spiritual and political tool, also warrants closer scrutiny than Duncan allows.
Save for the use of theory and negative depiction of Lovedale, Duncan's history is not a great deal different than Robert Shepard's 1940 text. In fact, the assumptions informing the two books are remarkably similar: Shepard wrote his history with the assumption that mission Christianity allowed for peaceful relations between "Native" and European; Duncan, in his final chapter especially, defends Christianity as a religion "marked by the elements of justice [and] reconciliation" (p. 394). The real novelty of Duncan's study is its suggestion that, in the future, South African education should be "community-based" and Christian. Theologians may be interested in this argument but historians still await a sophisticated and comprehensive study of Lovedale and its influence.
. Alexander Duff, Foreign Missions: Being an Address Delivered Before the General Assembly of the Free Church of Scotland (Edinburgh: Andrew Elliot, 1866), p. 38.
. Robert H.W. Shepherd, Lovedale South Africa: The Story of a Century, 1841-1941 (Lovedale: Lovedale Press, 1940).
. Jean and John Comaroff, Of Revelation and Revolution, Volume one: Christianity, Colonialism and Consciousness in South Africa (Chicago: Chicago University Press, 1991).
. Elizabeth Elbourne, "Word Made Flesh: Christianity, Modernity, and Cultural Colonialism in the Work of Jean and John Comaroff," American Historical Review 108, no. 2 (April 2003): pp. 435-459.
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