Nov 11: Infrastructure As Imaginary of Social Transformation and Its Contestation in South Africa

ICGC Brown Bag Series 
Friday November 11th, 2016 
Noon-1pm, 537 Heller Hall 

A Revolution of Brick and Concrete: Infrastructure As Imaginary
of Social Transformation and Its Contestation in South Africa 

Presented by: Dr. Bernard Dubbeld
Department of Sociology and Social Anthropology, Stellenbosch University

Abstract: Some within the ruling African National Congress speak of South Africa as in a “two stage revolution”, with a first phase of “national democratic revolution” as overcoming apartheid and a second leading to socialism (Slovo 1988). Outside the party, critics on the left have suggested the “betrayal” of the revolution (Magubane 2004, Saul 2001) or denied the existence of a revolution at all, calling the defeat of Apartheid an “elite transition” (Bond 2000). However differently these positions understand the nature of change after apartheid, this paper proposes that revolution — in the sense of swift and significant social transformation – has for the South African government become imagined as achievable mainly through the provision of infrastructure. In this presentation I consider ethnographic accounts of government bureaucracy and the official framing of revolution by the state. I show that infrastructure — encompassing housing, water, and electricity — has become central to local understandings of social transformation. I consider how this infrastructural imaginary transforms revolution into a technical rather than a utopian matter and invites comparisons with socialist experiments of the twentieth century. 

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