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Scale, belonging and exclusion in Gauteng

At what scales do residents of Gauteng imagine their ‘community’ to be? What kinds of social boundaries do they draw around their homes, neighbourhoods, social networks, cities, the province, nation and at other broader scales such as the continent? How do residents of Gauteng think about who belongs ‘here’ and who does not?

One of the most basic social processes is the formation of categories of social membership. These processes are characterised by an understanding of an in-group, the members of which are broadly equivalent to one another, might identify with one another, and can make claims on the benefits of membership. By contrast, non-members are defined out of the group. These processes can take on territorial dimensions, either through formal processes of political boundary drawing, or de facto processes of social boundary drawing. Thus exclusion from a social category can also mean exclusion from a space.

This project examines the way in which belonging and exclusion in Gauteng occur at different scales. On one hand social identity formation has become scaled-up. In the early 1990s, apartheid’s balkanised governance arrangements were scrapped in order for people in the territory to exist as equal citizens of one nation. Similarly the formation of ‘unicities’ brought together places such as Soweto and Sandton under single local government structures. The definition of residents of Johannesburg has become much more geographically inclusive as a result. A recent example of scaling up is the planned increase of school feeder zones in Gauteng in an effort to make schools more open to more than the adjacent neighbourhoods.

Yet people’s personal networks are much more specific than an imagined community of people the size of a nation or a city (Anderson 1991). Furthermore, people draw boundaries at local scales, very often because they wish to keep a particular space or resource for themselves. One of the ways in which people are scaling down their social membership is through the proliferation of gated communities. There is a large literature on the ways in which elites withdraw from broader national life through mechanisms such as gated communities to help make sure that they do not have to share their resources, spaces and lives with others (Bauman 2001, Reich 1991). What is perhaps less appreciated is the way in which localising also occurs within poorer communities. In 2015 Roodepoort Primary School in Davidsonville became the site of fierce contestation seemingly along ‘racial lines’ with some parents of learners there rejecting a principle appointed to run the school and insisting that the school staff and learners should be drawn from the immediate community. A further example is the way in which many urban insiders of Gauteng express concern about the arrival of new migrants to ‘their’ space. Many Gauteng residents do not feel that migrants from other countries, or in some cases other parts of the country, belong here, and the extreme form of this sentiment has resulted in instances of xenophobic hostility.

This project addresses the following thematic questions:
1. How do people conceive of social membership and in what way are these containers of social membership scaling up or down?
2. How are efforts to open out or delimit social membership articulated in language and put into practise?
3. What are the implications of these various tendencies for the achievement of social justice?

The planned output for this project is an edited academic book consisting of both theoretical and empirical chapters. In order to accumulate a theoretical framework, the research team convenes a study group on a monthly basis in order to share readings and notes on literature on scale, belonging, boundary drawing, mobility, transgression and related themes. Five case studies have been mapped out and are at various stages of completion. For example Richard Ballard participated in a series of interviews in Diepsloot in December 2016 with workers who are constructing nearby gated communities. Ngaka Mosiane has been conducting field work in the Moloto Corridor and Mabopane. Lukas Spiropoulos has completed a first draft of a report on Roodepoort primary in Davidsonville. Alexandra Parker, Christian Hamann and Julia de Kadt are examining the impact of school feeder zones on both families and the city.


Richard Ballard, Gareth Jones & Makale Ngwenya (August 2017) 'Relational anxieties: The concerns of precarious labour employed to build a gated community' Urban Anxieties in the Global South Workshop, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg. 18 August.


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