The Ant and the Grasshopper

Rationalising Exclusion and Inequality in the Post-apartheid City

in Theoria
Author: Richard Ballard
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As with many other genres of storytelling, fables are as much about the socialisation of political values as they are about the amusement of children. Although their timeless appearance presents their truths as absolute, the meanings of fables change as they are reinterpreted through time by particular ideologies. Thus we find that The Ant and the Grasshopper, a children’s favourite about the need for hard work and careful saving, has recently been commandeered by conservative adults who are searching for ever more coded ways of communicating in today’s anti-racist contexts. This story is attributed to Æsop, a mythical sixth century B.C. slave and storyteller (Adrados 1999). During the renaissance, Europe’s fascination with antiquity prompted renewed interest in Æsop’s fables as vehicles of commentary on the politics of the time (Hanazaki 1993-1994 & Patterson 1991). Their popularity accelerated with the industrial revolution since some of the fables, such as The Tortoise and the Hare and The Ant and the Grasshopper, were particularly suited to the socialisation of selfrestraint and a strong work ethic. The Ant and the Grasshopper tells the story of the ant that worked hard collecting food during summer, while the carefree grasshopper did not. During winter, the ant survived while the grasshopper starved. This story conveyed to children that the threat of lean times was ever present but that hard work would stave off starvation.

Theoria

A Journal of Social and Political Theory

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