Being like a state: policing space in Johannesburg

by Darshan Vigneswaran

Working Papers WP 10-15
November 2010
ISSN 2192-2357 (MMG Working Papers Print)

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This paper looks at the legacies of segregation in Africa. The study is specifically interested in the aftermath of Apartheid, in Johannesburg South Africa. Now that the Apartheid plans and laws are on the scrapheap, a series of leftovers, hangovers and attenuated dynamics continue to help create urban divides across the city. These are not strict, marked, formal boundaries, but ‘frontiers’: semi-permeable, implicit zones which define where the various racial and class groups in Johannesburg go, and clarify how they are treated when they do. In order to understand the emergence of new urban frontiers, I engage with James Scott’s (1998) theory of spatial control and resistance in development planning outlined in ‘Seeing Like a State’. I explore how individual mētis is implicated in the reconstruction of authoritarian, or at the very least oppressive and non-democratic forms of social and political space in Johannesburg. I argue that the high modernist system of Apartheid was not simply embedded in plans and laws, but in the people who were responsible for its implementation and the people who were subject to the laws. I show how this institutional memory influences their responses to human mobility across the urban landscape.

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