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Theorising Race

Imagining Possibilities

Kira Erwin and Gerhard Maré

This special issue emerges from a concern with academic practice around researching and theorising race, racialism and racism; particularly within the current theoretical climate in which race is, in the majority, accepted as a social construct. In public thinking and discourse, however, acceptance of the biological existence of races continues to dominate in many societies. Racial classification also continues in many state practices in South Africa such as the collection of racial demographics though the national census, and through countless private and public officials reporting towards government-stipulated race-based employment acts. These classification practices raise contradictions for the constitutional goal of non-racialism in South Africa. South Africa has also signed and ratified the International Convention for the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Professional Interest/Pages/CERD.aspx), which aims to eliminate racial discrimination in member states. The convention, to which member states are legally bound, raises a number of pressing issues that, to date, are not present in a wider national debate on the continued use of race in South African state policy. For example, there is little recognition by the state of the difficulties associated with identifying a targeted group based on race, nor clarity as to whether these groups are identified through markers based on phenotype, or socio-economic or cultural differences. Nor is there open discussion on the use of terms such as fair and unfair discrimination and how they relate to terms such as distinction and differentiation (see Bossuyt 2000), and the legal consequences of using such terms.

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Fixing Men: Sex, Birth Control, and AIDS in Mexico, Contemporary South Africa, by Matthew Gutmann Marc Epprecht

The Political Philosophy of Needs, by Lawrence Hamilton David James

Foucault, Psychology and the Analytics of Power, by Derek Hook Grahame Hayes

Rethinking Multiculturalism: Cultural Diversity and Political Theory, 2nd edition, by Bhikhu Parekh Joleen Steyn-Kotze

The Plot to Kill God: Findings from the Soviet Experiment in Secularization, by Paul Froese Gerald West

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AIDS, South Africa and the Politics of Knowledge by Jeremy R. Youde Mandisa Mbali

Clausewitz’s Puzzle: The Political Theory of War by Andreas Herberg-Rothe Deane-Peter Baker

History of Madness by Michel Foucault, edited by Jean Khalfa and translated by Jonathan Murphy and Jean Khalfa Roger Deacon

Psychiatric Power: Lectures at the Collège de France, 1973-1974 by Michel Foucault, edited by Jacques Lagrange and translated by Graham Burchell Roger Deacon

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Portrait

Jean Comaroff

Jean Comaroff, Peter Geschiere, Kamari M. Clarke, and Adeline Masquelier

Colonial frontiers, we have long been told, put conventional categories at risk. I grew up on one such frontier, itself an anachronism in the late-twentieth-century world—apartheid South Africa, where many of the key terms of liberal modernity were scandalously, publically violated. Religion was one of them. Some have argued that the act of separating the sacred from the secular is the founding gesture of liberal modern state making (Asad 2003: 13). In this, South Africa was a flagrant exception. There, the line between faith and politics was always overtly contested, always palpably porous. Faith-based arguments were central to politics at its most pragmatic, to competing claims of sovereignty and citizenship, to debates about the nature of civilization or the content of school curricula. As a settler colony, South Africa had long experimented with ways to ‘modernize racial domination’ (Adam 1971) in the interests of capitalist production, frequently with appeals to theology. After 1948, in contrast with the spirit of a decolonizing world, the country fell under the sway of Afrikaner rulers of overtly Calvinist bent. They set about formalizing a racial division of labor that ensured that black populations, the Children of Ham, remained economically subservient and politically marginal.

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Under the Sign of the Gun

Welcome to the Postmodern Melancholy of Gordimer's Post-Apartheid World

Simon Lewis

Raymond Chandler used to say that whenever he got stuck writing a novel he would get going again by having a character come through the door with a gun in hand. Reading the opening pages of Nadine Gordimer’s new novel with its account of a sensational murder, one might wonder whether South Africa’s 1991 Nobel laureate, faced with the end of apartheid and the consequent lack of a subject, was operating according to Chandler’s principle. The House Gun, however, indicates not so much the lack of a subject as a new way of looking at an old subject facing new circumstances – the old subject being the psychological and material effects of white racism on whites, the new circumstances being those of post-apartheid South Africa. Moreover, the apparent narrowing of focus from the macropolitics of Gordimer’s three most recent preceding novels, None to Accompany Me (1994), My Son’s Story (1990), and A Sport of Nature (1987), to the micro-politics of The House Gun suggests that we can read South Africa’s transition to full democracy as a paradigmatic change from a modern to a postmodern condition. Gordimer’s post- 1994 publications, and The House Gun in particular, lend themselves to being read as illustrative of two of Michel Foucault’s central insights: the ubiquity of power, and the consequent idea that given that ubiquity, care of one’s self (‘souci de soi’) becomes a new kind of political obligation.

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“Small Acts”

The Perspective, Location and Agency of Theory in South African Cultural Studies

Ashraf Jamal

In an interview with David Attwell, recorded in 1993 at the School of Criticism and Theory at Dartmouth College New Hampshire, Homi Bhabha turns his liminal gaze to the fate of South Africa. His position, that of “an outsider … a bystander and consumer of the media” (Attwell 1993: 109), invokes a reading of the state of the nation and its cultural predicament which, nine years hence, remains compelling. What is particularly striking about the conversation, conducted at a geographical remove during a charged historical time when South Africa forges what will prove to be an on-going process of disinterring itself from a legacy of oppression, is Bhabha’s eschewal of a saving telos and his insistence on turning and returning to “the semiosis of the moment of transition” (1993: 104). For Bhabha this moment is not the Gramscian interregnum between two distinct states of governance. Rather, his conception subsumes the notion of two distinct states as well as Antonio Gramsci’s conception of the moment between as the emergent locus for a symptomatic morbidity. Here Bhabha diverges from the perception of those within South Africa for whom the interregnum has served as a prevailing trope, most notably Nadine Gordimer in The Essential Gesture: Writing, Politics and Places (1988: 262) and Michael Chapman in Southern African Literatures (1996: 327-331). Rather, between the renunciation of a past and the proleptic fulfilment of a future, Bhabha proffers a more enabling conception of the moment of transition; one which, having “overcome the given grounds of opposition … opens up a space of translation: a place of hybridity, figuratively speaking, where the construction of a political object that is new, neither the one nor the other, properly alienates our political expectation, and changes, as it must, the very forms of our recognition of the moment of politics” (Bhabha 1994: 25).

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Facing East, Facing West

Mark Twain's Following the Equator and Pandita Ramabai's The Peoples of the United States

Brian Yothers

Mark Twain's Following the Equator (1897), a narrative of a journey to the South Pacific, Australia, South Asia, and South Africa, has occupied a small but significant space in the consideration of Twain's wider career as both a travel writer and social critic. Twain's work has not, however, been considered in conjunction with the works of later nineteenth-century South Asian travelers in North America. The present article puts Twain's discussion of India and Ceylon (present-day Sri Lanka) in dialogue with Indian scholar and women's rights activist Pandita Ramabai's 1889 travelogue The Peoples of the United States.

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AIDS and Postcolonial Politics

Acting Up on Science and Immigration in France

Michael J. Bosia

From a postcolonial left that challenges the French state over immigration policy and neoliberal globalization, Act Up has advocated for the social and political rights and needs of women, inmates, drug users, and immigrants with HIV/AIDS. This essay examines as well Act Up's engagement with science and globalization in response to new experimental medical trials in the Global South. Act Up's emphasis on local empowerment against global economic and social actors has earned criticism from American and South African AIDS activists, but at the same time these campaigns stress the universalist impulse imbedded in the Act Up brand of French Republican politics.

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The Ariadne’s thread that runs through, and connects, the articles in this issue of Theoria is the modern state. How should the state approach welfare policy? Is the state’s power as absolute as once it had been? What is the importance of nationalism for states? What assumptions about the relationship between the state and civil society should be examined, and how? What, especially in a developing society such as South Africa, is—or should be—the relationship between the state and the poor? These are the overarching questions that knit together the contributions.

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Forget Forgiveness

On the Benefits of Sympathy for Political Reconciliation

Nir Eisikovits

The work of South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission has generated a great deal of interest in the role of forgiveness in politics. More specifically, it has raised the question of whether forgiveness should be a constitutive part of reconciliation processes between groups. In this paper, I argue that it should not, and that it might be both more useful and more realistic to consider something like Adam Smith’s notion of ‘sympathy’ instead. The first part examines the arguments for and against policies promoting political forgiveness. The second part suggests sympathy as an alternative. The third part considers and rejects some objections to the employment of sympathy in this context.