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Discourse on identity : conversations with white South Africans

Puttergill, Charles Hugh (2008-03)

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


The uncertainty and insecurity generated by social transformation within local and global contexts foregrounds concerns with identity. South African society has a legacy of an entrenched racial order which previously privileged those classified ‘white’. The assumed normality in past practices of such an institutionalised system of racial privileging was challenged by a changing social, economic and political context. This dissertation examines the discourse of white middle-class South Africans on this changing context. The study draws on the discourse of Afrikaansspeaking and English-speaking interviewees living in urban and rural communities. Their discourse reveals the extent to which these changes have affected the ways they talk about themselves and others. There is a literature suggesting the significance of race in shaping people’s identity has diminished within the post-apartheid context. This study considers the extent to which the evasion of race suggested in a literature on whiteness is apparent in the discourse on the transformation of the society. By considering this discourse a number of questions are raised on how interviewees conceive their communities and what implication this holds for future racial integration. What is meant by being South African is a related matter that receives attention. The study draws the conclusion that in spite of heightened racial sensitivity, race remains a key factor in the identities of interviewees.

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