Changing identities in urban South Africa : an interpretation of narratives in Cape Town

Leilde, Anne C. (2008-12)

Thesis (DPhil (Sociology and Social Anthropology))--Stellenbosch University, 2008.


Identity reflects and aims to control one’s experience. It is an act of consciousness which is neither essential nor immutable but a social construct open to change as circumstances, strategies and interactions fluctuate. It needs therefore to be situated historically and relationally, as identity is a matter of social context. This thesis sets out to investigate processes of identity formation in post-apartheid South Africa, i.e. a context marked by deep changes at both symbolic/material structural levels, in particular within the urban setup. On the basis of focus group discussions with residents of Cape Town, various, and at times contradictory, strategies of identification are explored. Residents’ discourses are analysed on the basis of two entry points, that of the context or the ‘scale’ within which discourse occurs (from the local, to the urban, the national and the continental) and that of the traditional categories of class, race and culture. The narratives that urban citizens draw upon to make sense of their lives and environment illuminate the emergence of new social boundaries among citizens which, though volatile and situational, reveal a changing picture of South Africa as a nation.

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