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Social Engineering and Revolutionary Consciousness: Domestic Transformations in Colonial South Africa

Hickel, Jason. 2012. Social Engineering and Revolutionary Consciousness: Domestic Transformations in Colonial South Africa. History and Anthropology, 23(3), pp. 301-322. ISSN 0275-7206 [Article]

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Abstract or Description

Early colonial administrators relied primarily on indirect rule and “customary law” to govern Africans in segregated reserves by appropriating chiefs and propping up patriarchal power in rural families. But, by the early twentieth century, colonists’ demands for African labour had led to the growth of an urban African population living in “slums” near European cities, outside the controls of indirect rule. Administrators believed that “detribalization” and the deterioration of the patriarchal family had rendered this population dangerously liminal, neither properly “traditional” nor yet entirely “modern”. Fearing that social anomie would give rise to political unrest, the state embarked on a mammoth project to forcibly relocate slum residents into planned townships, where they could be “civilized” for the purposes of control. The planners assigned to this project sought to remake the African family in the modern, nuclear mould, believing that this new order would facilitate utopian docility. But, in the process of trying to create a fully proletarianized, egalitarian population, planners inadvertently helped generate the conditions for the national democratic revolution that developed in the townships in the 1980s, which eventually led to the demise of apartheid.

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Social Engineering, Consciousness, Domesticity, South Africa, Apartheid

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2 August 2012Published Online

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Date Deposited:

17 Nov 2017 14:56

Last Modified:

17 Nov 2017 14:56

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Yes, this version has been peer-reviewed.


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