Exploring the continuum of coexistence and conflict: modalities of engaging with difference in informal settlements in urban South Africa
Iriann Freemantle, PhD, Jean Pierre Misago, PhDc

In 1994, South Africa held its first democratic elections and officially abolished the system of Apartheid and institutionalised racism that had governed the relations between the country’s ‘population groups’ since colonial days. However, the social, spatial and economic legacies of segregation powerfully shape interactions and life chances even 20 years into the ‘new’ South Africa. In particular, the regulation of difference and the categorisation of people in relation to rights and territory remains a central and defining feature of South African society. This is evidenced prominently by extraordinary levels of xenophobia amongst the South African population as a whole. While such hostile attitudes are all-pervasive, actual violence motivated or framed by prejudice tends to manifest predominantly in the country’s economically marginalised, super-diverse and mobile urban settlements. Especially since what became known as the ‘xenophobic violence’ of May 2008, much research has thus focussed on hostility towards foreign nationals in South Africa.

Yet, anecdotal and fragmented evidence shows that the ‘outsider’ or ‘Other’ in these contexts is a fluid and volatile concept, applied flexibly to people of different ethnic and national groups from within or beyond the country’s borders, as well as people of different sexual, political or religious orientations. Set in two informal peri-urban areas in Kwa Zulu Natal and Gauteng, this project thus seeks to systematically explore how various forms of difference are produced, given meaning to, organised and controlled in these contexts. It will document in particular the precarity of fault lines, the polymorphic ethics of difference and conditions of tolerance as well as the processes of boundary (de)construction that govern the engagement with the Other and outsiders.  
Expected outputs for this project include 1-2 academic articles speaking to the global literature on diversity, the encounter of difference, conflict and coexistence, as well as a policy brief trying to help de-centre South Africa’s current strategic focus on race and class as the sole social cohesion challenge.

Iriann Freemantle is a researcher based at the African Centre for Migration & Society at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa. With a background in sociology, ethnic and migration studies, her research focuses on social cohesion in policy and practice, anti-outsider violence as well as the 'everyday' engagement with diversity. Her doctoral research, completed in 2010, explored discourses and practices of ‘non-elite’, quotidian cosmopolitanism amongst Southern African migrants in Johannesburg. She also lectures and supervises within the ACMS’s MA in Migration and Society.

Go to Editor View