Guarding whiteness : navigating constructions of white car-guards in postapartheid South Africa

Spickernell, Gemma Ashleigh (2016-12)

Thesis (MA)--Stellenbosch University, 2016.


ENGLISH ABSTRACT: In postapartheid South Africa, the topic of whiteness and white privilege has been at the forefront of social contestation. The persistence of white privilege, and the way in which whites attempt to renegotiate their social identities amidst a loss of political power, has been recognised as a central point of inquiry for South African whiteness studies. The postapartheid social order is uncharted territory for white South Africans, and its novelty has stimulated the conditions for the emergence of potentially new, multifarious white social identity structures distinguished largely through their intersections with class. In terms of conceiving whiteness through class, the issue of heterogeneous and homogenous white social identities is a central tension in the whiteness studies literature as scholars attempt to establish how to conceive whiteness under these new, particularised conditions. Using critical discourse analysis (CDA), this study aimed to develop an intersectional and nuanced understanding of whiteness in postapartheid South Africa, by identifying, describing and contextualising potentially heterogeneous white social identities as expressed through patterns of hybridisation within their everyday discourse. Accordingly, this multi-method ethnographic study explored the narrative experiences of a group of white car-guards and the mainly white motorists who engage with them in postapartheid social locales, as articulated through their respective constructions of themselves and each other through discourse. The analysis suggested that postapartheid South African whiteness remains largely homogenous in terms of its discursive patterns and preoccupations, and several parallels were identified between the participants’ discourse, and the type of colonial and apartheid era discourse depicted more broadly in the whiteness studies literature. Furthermore, it was found that the participants’ discourse was characterised by a sense of “guardedness” around those attempts which sought to highlight the persistence of these homogenous discursive patterns and preoccupations. Although this study aimed to explore potentially heterogeneous white social identities, and even after accounting for divergent occupations of class, these findings suggest that it is certainly too soon to disregard the dominance and doggedness of homogenous, mainly privileged, white social identity structures in postapartheid South Africa. This suggests that the call for the particularisation of white social identity structures should continue to inform the study of whiteness, but not at the expense of negating the homogenous performance of whiteness and white privilege that persists and prevails even within those social conditions that render it obsolete.

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