Moral order as necessity and as impossibility : common sense, race and the difficulty of change among four 'poor white' families in Newcastle

Peens, Michelle (2011-03)

Thesis (MA (Sociology and Social Anthropology))--University of Stellenbosch, 2011.

Thesis

ENGLISH ABSTRACT: The thesis examines the lives of four families in Newcastle, KwaZulu-Natal and what the situation in which these families find themselves tells us about race, poverty and social change in contemporary South Africa by using ethnographic participant observation techniques. Central to the thesis is a concern with contradiction expressed in the entanglement of these four families with a particular moral order. This moral order is the basis of continued material survival, but at the same time, it is not adequate to transform conditions of poverty nor to change feelings of entitlement, making it impossible for these families to imagine their condition as shared with other races. The problem appears to be just about individuals not thinking correctly about their position and about them not seeing how many South Africans are struggling to survive and therefore share similar difficulties. The thesis shows that the difficulties experienced have rather more to do with changing the families' common sense notions. Their common sense is grounded in material realities, in realties of institutions that provide for them but also dictate a particular way of seeing the world, a moral order. Common sense is embedded in the material practices of people, in how they inhabit space and make place for themselves, in how they interact with family, in how they work with the institutions that are the very condition of their survival, and in how they come to understand and judge the past. At the moments when the limits of the moral order become clear, it is then not the moral order that comes into question but rather it is reasserted through explanations based on particular structural changes as contingencies that reinforce the moral order rather than challenge it. It is at these moments that people reassert race since their common sense explanations seem limited.

AFRIKAANSE OPSOMMING: Hierdie proefskrif ondersoek die alledaagse lewens van vier families in Newcastle, KwaZulu-Natal en wat hul situasie ons kan vertel van ras, armoede en sosiale verandering in 'n kontemporêre Suid-Afrika gebasseer op deelnemende waarneming en etnografiese tegnieke. Sentraal tot die proefskrif is 'n fokus op die teenstrydigheid wat voorkom in die verstrengeling van hierdie vier families met 'n bepaalde morele orde. Hierdie morele orde is die grondslag vir voortgesette materiële oorlewing, maar terselfde tyd is dit nie voldoende om die kondisies van armoede te transformeer of om hul gevoelens van geregtigheid te verander nie en maak dit amper onmoonltik vir die families om hulle kondisie as gedeel en gemeenskaplik met ander rasse te sien. Die probleem blyk om meer te wees as net individue wat nie korrek nadink oor hul posisie nie of nie sien hoeveel ander Suid Afrikaners sukkel om 'n bestaan te maak nie en dus soortgelyke probleme ervaar. Die tesis wys dat dit het eerder te doen met 'n verandering in wat die families „weet‟ gebaseer op hulle gesonde verstand (common sense). Hulle gesonde verstand is gegrond in materiële realiteite, die realiteite van instellings wat vir hulle voorsiening maak en gevolglik die spesifieke wyse waarop hulle die wêreld sien dikteer; 'n morele orde. Hulle gesonde verstand is gegrond in die materiële praktyke van mense, in hoe hulle in ruimtes leef en plek maak vir hulself, in hoe hulle omgaan met familie, in hoe hulle te werk gaan met instellings wat die basis is vir hulle oorlewing en in hoe hulle sin maak van die verlede asook dit oordeel. In die oomblike wanneer die grense van die morele orde bereik word, is dit nie die morele orde wat bevraagteken word nie. Die morele orde word eerder gehandhaaf deur regverdigings gebasseer op spesifieke strukturele veranderings wat dit verder versterk, eerder as uitdaag. Dit is in hierdie oomblikke wat mense fokus op ras omdat hulle gesonde verstand se rationalisasies of regverdigings beperk is.

Please refer to this item in SUNScholar by using the following persistent URL: http://hdl.handle.net/10019.1/6787
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