Dr Keith Shear BA (Hons) Wits, MA (London), PhD (Northwestern)

Dr Keith Shear

Department of African Studies and Anthropology
Senior Lecturer in African Studies
Head of Department of African Studies and Anthropology

Contact details

Arts Building
University of Birmingham
B15 2TT

I am particularly interested in South African history and politics, and am currently researching how the South African state coped with domestic political dissent during the 1940s through to the 1960's.


Keith joined the Department of African Studies and Anthropology in 1999 shortly after obtaining his doctorate from Northwestern University in Chicago. He has a Postgraduate Certificate in Learning and Teaching in Higher Education from Birmingham University and is closely involved in the work of the Journal of Southern African Studies, where he was Reviews Editor and then Editor from 2006 to 2012.


At the undergraduate level, Keith teaches introductory and advanced courses on general African history and politics, and a series of modules on nineteenth century, twentieth century and post-1994 South Africa.  For graduate students he offers a module on the history and politics of southern Africa.

Postgraduate supervision

Keith is currently interested in supervising projects on South African history, politics and culture.


Keith works on policing, state formation and politics in early twentieth century South Africa.  He is interested in the relationships between political monitoring, bureaucratisation and developments in the legal system during that period - issues that speak to very current concerns about the surveillance, political repression, and ousting or limiting of judicial oversight that governments today practise in the name of public safety and countering terrorism.

Keith talks about his research into the South-African police in the 1950s

Other activities

  • 'Keith is a member of the editorial boards of both Africa and the Journal of Southern African Studies.
  • He is a past editor of the Journal of Southern African Studies.


Articles in scholarly journals

  • 2013, 'Colonel Coetzee's War: Loyalty, Subversion and the South African Police, 1939-1945', South African Historical Journal, 65, 2 (2013), 222-248.
  • 2013 'At War with the Pass Laws? Reform and the Policing of White Supremacy in 1940s South Africa', The Historical Journal, 56, 1 (March 2013), pp 205-229.
  • 2012, 'Tested Loyalties: Police and Politics in South Africa, 1939-63', Journal of African History, 53, 2 (July 2012), 173-93
  • 2012, 'Chiefs or Modern Bureaucrats? Managing Black Police in Early Twentieth-Century South Africa', Comparative Studies in Society and History, 54, 2 (April 2012), 251-74.
  • 2010, ‘Legal Liberalism, Statutory Despotism and State Power in Early Twentieth-Century South Africa’, Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History, 38, 4 (December 2010), 523-48.
  • 1996, “‘Not Welfare or Uplift Work’: White Women, Masculinity and Policing in South Africa,” Gender & History, 8, 3 (November 1996), 393-415.  Also in Nancy Rose Hunt et al, eds., Gendered Colonialisms in African History (Oxford: Blackwell, 1997), 71-93

Chapters in edited books

  • 2003, “‘Taken as Boys’: The Politics of Black Police Employment and Experience in Early Twentieth-Century South Africa,” in Lisa A. Lindsay and Stephan F. Miescher, eds., Men and Masculinities in Modern Africa (Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann), 109-127.
  • 2000, “Police Dogs and State Rationality in Early Twentieth-Century South Africa,” in Saul Dubow, ed., Science and Society in Southern Africa (Manchester: Manchester University Press), 143-163. Reprinted in Lance van Sittert and Sandra Swart, eds. Canis Africanis: A Dog History of Southern Africa (Leiden: Brill, 2008) 193-216.

Reviewed books

  • For Africa, African Affairs, Journal of Modern African Studies and Journal of Southern African Studies