Skip to main content Accessibility help

Imagining Change, Imaginary Futures: “Conditions of Possibility” in Pre-Independence Southern Rhodesia, 1959–1963

  • Rory Pilossof and Gary Rivett


This article invites historians to think more critically about the language, narratives, and tropes historians use to identify, describe, and explain processes of change. By doing so, we raise questions about the possibility of historicizing ideas and experiences of change. The suitability of historians’ descriptive and explanatory tools and frameworks for understanding one of the most important aims of historical scholarship is often very limited. We ponder the extent to which historians’ identification of historical change correlates with how historical actors imagined, experienced, and identified change. Starting from the perspective of the latter enables us to examine how far “change” exists prior to its embedding in the (sometimes conflicting) narratives, discourses, and practices of contemporaries. This article seeks to develop the concepts of “critical junctures” and “discursive thresholds.” While both concepts are used in social science research and literary studies, they have rarely been paired together. We combine them because they help relate the importance of events to change and the discourses surrounding them. As a case study, this article looks at a magazine titled Property and Finance, which was published in Southern Rhodesia (1956–77) and edited by Wilfred Brooks. Brooks’s editorials and political commentary offer an opportunity to consider broad questions of change, imagined futures, and discursive engagements with the political and social developments underway.



Hide All
Arrighi, G. (1973) “International corporations, labor aristocracies and economic development in tropical Africa,” in Arrighi, G. and Saul, J. (eds.) Essays on the Political Economy of Africa. New York: Monthly Review Press: 105–51.
Bender, J., and Wellbery, D. E., eds. (1991) Chronotypes: The Construction of Time. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.
Blake, R. (1966) A History of Rhodesia. London: Metheun.
Bond, P. (1998) Uneven Zimbabwe: A Study of Finance, Development, and Underdevelopment. Trenton, NJ: Asmara.
Bösch, F. (2012) “Umbrüche in die gegenwart: global ereignisse: Globale ereignisse und krisenreaktionen um 1979.” Zeithistorische Forschungen/Studies in Contemporary History, Accessed 3 February 2019.
Brownell, J. (2011) The Collapse of Rhodesia: Population Demographics and the Politics of Race. London: I. B. Tauris.
Butler, L. (2007) “Business and British decolonization: Sir Ronald Prain, the mining industry and the Central African Federation.” The Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History 35 (3): 459–84.
Capoccia, G., and Kelemen, R. D. (2007) “The study of critical junctures: Theory, narrative and counterfactuals in historical institutionalism.” World Politics 59 (3): 341–69.
Clements, F. (1969) Rhodesia: A Study of the Deterioration of a White Society. New York: Praeger.
Cohen, A. (2008) “Business and decolonisation in Central Africa reconsidered.” The Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History 36 (4): 641–58.
Cohen, A.. (2017) The Politics and Economics of Decolonization in Africa: The Failed Experiment of the Central African Federation. London: I. B. Tauris.
Cooper, F. (2008) “Possibility and constraint: African independence in historical perspective.” Journal of African History 49 (2): 167–96.
Cooper, F.. (2014) “French Africa, 1947-48: Reform, violence, and uncertainty in a colonial situation.” Critical Inquiry 40 (4): 466–78.
Cronje, S., Ling, M., and Cronje, G. (1976) Lonrho: Portrait of a Multinational. London: Friedmann.
Ellert, H. (1995) “Rhodesian security and intelligence community 1960–1980,” in Ranger, T., and Bhebe, N. (eds.) Soldiers in Zimbabwe’s Liberation War. London: Heinemann: 87103.
Fabian, J. (1983) Time and the Other: How Anthropology Makes Its Object. New York: Columbia University Press.
Fetter, B. (1983) Colonial Rule and Regional Imbalance in Central Africa. Boulder: University of Colorado Press.
Franklin, H. (1963) Unholy Wedlock: The Failure of the Central African Federation. London: G. Allen and Unwin.
Godwin, P., and Hancock, I. (1996) Rhodesians Never Die: The Impact of War and Political Change on White Rhodesia, c. 1970–1980. Harare, Zimbabwe: Baobab Books.
Gordin, M. D., Tilley, H., and Prakash, G. (2010) “Utopia and dystopia beyond space and time,” in Gordin, M. D., Tilley, H., and Prakash, G. (eds.) Utopia/Dystopia: Conditions of Historical Possibility. Princeton, NJ, and Oxford: Princeton University Press: 121.
Hancock, I. (1984) White Liberals, Moderates and Radicals in Rhodesia 1953–1980. New York: St. Martin.
Henderson, I. (1972) “White populism in Southern Rhodesia.” Comparative Studies in Society and History 14 (4): 387–99.
Holderness, H. (1985) Lost Chance: Southern Rhodesia, 1945–58. Harare: Zimbabwe Publishing House.
Hölscher, L. (1999) Die Entdeckung Der Zukunft. Frankfurt: Fischer Taschenbuch Verlag.
Hubbard, J. P. (2011) The United States and the End of British Colonial Rule in Africa, 1941–1968. Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company.
Hughes, M. (2003) “Fighting for white rule in Africa: The Central African Federation, Katanga, and the Congo Crisis.” International History Review 25 (3): 596615.
Jenkins, R. (2002) “In the present tense: Time, identification and human nature.” Anthropological Theory 2 (3): 267–80.
Karonen, P., ed. (2009) Hopes and Fears for the Future in Early Modern Sweden, 1500–1800. Helsinki: Suomalaisen Kirjallisuuden Seura.
Koselleck, R. (1985) “‘Spaces of experience’ and ‘horizons of expectation’: Two historical categories,” in Koselleck, R. (ed.) Futures Past: On the Semantics of Historical Time, translated by Keith Tribe. New York: MIT Press: 255–75.
Law, K. (2012) “Writing white women: Whiteness, gender, politics and power in Rhodesia, c.1950s–1980s.” PhD diss., University of Sheffield.
Loney, M. (1975) Rhodesia: White Racism and Imperial Response. Harmondsworth, UK: Penguin.
Lorenz, C., and Bevernage, B., eds. (2013) Breaking Up Time: Negotiating the Borders between Present, Past and Future. Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht.
Mahoney, J., and Rueschemeyer, D., eds. (2003) Comparative Historical Analysis in the Social Sciences. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Meredith, M. (1979) The Past Is Another Country: Rhodesia, UDI to Zimbabwe. London: Pan.
Mlambo, A. (2009) “From the Second World War to UDI, 1940–1965,” in Raftopoulos, B., and Mlambo, A. (eds.) Becoming Zimbabwe: A History from the Pre-colonial Period to 2008. Harare, Zimbabwe: Weaver Press: 75114.
Murray, D. J. (1970) The Governmental System in Southern Rhodesia. Oxford: Clarendon Press.
Okada, H. R. (1991) Figures of Resistance: Language, Poetry, and the Narrating in the Tale of Genji and Other Mid-Heian Texts. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.
Osborne, P. (1995) The Politics of Time: Modernity and Avant-Garde. London: Verso.
Our Rhodesian Heritage (2002) “The story of Rhodesia calls,” December 1, Accessed 3 February 2019.
Raulff, U. (1999) Der Unsichtbare Augenblick: Zeitkonzepte in Der Geschichte. Göttingen: Wallstein.
Rivett, G. (2015) “Editorial introduction: Activism, mobilisation and political engagement: Comparative historical perspectives.” Journal of Historical Sociology 28 (1): 110.
Scarnecchia, T. (2008) The Urban Roots of Democracy and Political Violence in Zimbabwe, Harare and Highfield, 1940–1964. Rochester, NY: University of Rochester Press.
Scarnecchia, T.. (2011) “The Congo Crisis, the United Nations, and Zimbabwean nationalism, 1960-1963.” African Journal on Conflict Resolution 11 (1): 6386.
Schaffer, K., and Smith, S.. (2004) “Conjunctions: Life narratives in the field of human rights.” Biography 27 (1): 124.
Schmidt, V. A. (2008) “Discursive institutionalism: The explanatory power of ideas and discourse.” Annual Review of Political Science 11 (1): 303–26.
Sherer, B. (2007) A Failed Experiment in Imperial Governance: The Central African Federation 1953–1963. Las Vegas: University of Nevada.
Shutt, A. (2015) Manners Make a Nation: Racial Etiquette in Southern Rhodesia, 1910–1963. Rochester, NY: University of Rochester Press.
Stoler, A. (2002) Carnal Knowledge and Imperial Power: Race and the Intimate in Colonial Rule. Oakland: University of California Press.
Todd, G. (1959) “Inaugural congress of the Central African Party,” June 6, Salisbury.
Todd, J. (1966) Rhodesia. Bristol, UK: MacGibbon and Kee.
Trillin, C. (1966) “Letter from Salisbury.” The New Yorker, November 12.
West, M. (2002) The Rise of an African Middle Class Colonial Zimbabwe, 1898–1965. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.
White, L. (2015) Unpopular Sovereignty: Rhodesian Independence and African Decolonization. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Whitlock, G. (2000) The Intimate Empire. London: Bloomsbury Academic.
Wood, J. R. T. (1983) The Welensky Papers: A History of the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland. Durban, South Africa: Graham Publishing.
Wood, J. R. T.. (2012) A Matter of Weeks Rather than Months: The Impasse between Harold Wilson and Ian Smith: Sanctions, Aborted Settlements and War 1965–1969. Bloomington, IN: Trafford Publishing.
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Social Science History
  • ISSN: 0145-5532
  • EISSN: 1527-8034
  • URL: /core/journals/social-science-history
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *


Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed