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Living Politics in South Africa’s Urban Shacklands

While much has been written on post-apartheid social movements in South Africa, most discussion centers on ideal forms of movements, disregarding the reality and agency of the activists themselves. In Living Politics, Kerry Ryan Chance radically flips the conversation by focusing on the actual language and humanity of post-apartheid activists rather than the external, idealistic commentary of old.
Tracking everyday practices and interactions between poor residents and state agents in South Africa’s shack settlements, Chance investigates the rise of nationwide protests since the late 1990s. Based on ethnography in Durban, Cape Town, and Johannesburg, the book analyzes the criminalization of popular forms of politics that were foundational to South Africa’s celebrated democratic transition. Chance argues that we can best grasp the increasingly murky line between “the criminal” and “the political” with a “politics of living” that casts slum and state in opposition to one another. Living Politics shows us how legitimate domains of politics are redefined, how state sovereignty is forcibly enacted, and how the production of new citizen identities crystallize at the intersections of race, gender, and class. 

224 pages | 22 halftones | 6 x 9 | © 2018

African Studies

Anthropology: Cultural and Social Anthropology

History: African History

Political Science: Race and Politics


"Living politics in South Africa’s urban shacklands provides a rich account of the everyday struggles that both unite and divide poor communities, facilitating the development of a collective identity, on the one hand, but creating liberal subject-citizens, on the other. It will be of interest to scholars of social movements, urban informality, and subaltern politics in the Global South."

Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute

Table of Contents

List of Abbreviations

Introduction: Elements of Living Politics

Fire / Umlilo
1 “Where There Is Fire, There Is Politics”: The Material Life of Governance

Water / Amanzi
2 Debts of Liberal State Transition: Liquid Belonging and Consumer Citizenship

Air / Umoya
3 Coughing Out the City: Everyday Healing in the Toxic Borderlands

Land / Umhlaba
4 Ashes to Ashes, Dust to Dust: How Territorial Informality Builds Future Cities

Modular Elements
5 “The Anger of the Poor Can Go in Many Directions”: Rematerializing Identity and Difference

Conclusion: Liberal Governance and the Urban Poor Revisited



Choice Magazine: CHOICE Outstanding Academic Title Awards

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