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Raw Life, New Hope
Decency, housing and everyday life in a post-apartheid community
Author/s: Ross, FC
Published: 2009
ISBN: 9781919895277
Format: Pdf
Soft cover
Pages: 256 pages
Rights: World Rights
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Raw Life, New Hope
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Creative Commons License
The electronic version of Raw Life, New Hope is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution - Non-Commercial - No Derivative Works 3.0 South Africa License.
Price & Ordering:
Qty Product Detail Recommended SA Price
2009 R300.00
About this publication:
Decency, housing and everyday life in a post-apartheid community

Raw Life, New Hope by Fiona Ross is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution - Non-Commercial - No Derivates licence

The Cape Flats, that windswept, treeless, barren, sandy area between two oceans at Africa’s southern tip, is home to more than a million people, approximately one quarter of Cape Town’s population.  Many live in the sprawling shack settlements that ring the city.  The post-apartheid state is attempting to eradicate such settlements by providing formal houses in planned residential estates.  Raw Life, New Hope is concerned with the residents of one such shack settlement, The Park, who moved to new, ‘formal’ houses in The Village, at the turn of the millennium. 
Based on 17 years of work, the ethnography introduces readers to core social science topics and modes of theorising. There are few sustained studies of the lives, aspirations and coping strategies of people in impoverished circumstances in South Africa.  Still fewer take a longitudinal perspective. This approach has allowed the author to trace how ordinary people attempt to live in accord with their ideals of decency under almost impossible circumstances and to trace the effects of material changes in their lives after 1994 – including democratic transformations and, significantly for the residents, the provision of RDP housing.
The book’s chapters are separated by illustrative breaks (photos, anecdotes, recipes, philosophical reflections on subjects that arose during conversations, maps etc.) that elicit a sense of the everyday, the provocations it poses and how people engage with and attempt to solve the problems of poverty.  Detailed descriptions, lively characterisation, verbatim quotes from interviews and conversations give a sense of the particularity of people’s lives and make the characters come alive to readers. An accessible and jargon-free style creates a novelistic feel which will appeal to lay readers as well as academics.
  • Preface
  • 1. ‘Teen die pad, Die Bos’ (Alongside the road, The Bush)
    An introduction to the shantytown, The Park, in historical, social and geographic terms.  The chapter also explores ethnographic method.
  • Chapter break: Everyday life in The Park
    Photographs of The Park and an anecdote.  The author gave disposable cameras to children and young adults in The Park and asked them to record their daily lives and their emotive experiences of space.  
  •  2. ‘I Long to Live in a House’
    The Park’s historical formation and the subsequent move to The Village.
  • Chapter break:   Mapping the sites
    A map of the old site by one of the residents; the author’s map and the planners’ map of the new site. 
  • 3. Sense-scapes: Senses and emotion in the making of place
    The relationship between spatiality and emotion: how a map-making exercise in The Park precipitated experiences of discomfort and loss. The author argues that space is known through the senses and everyday activities, and that changes in spatial position can produce discomforts similar to those of objectification. 
  • Chapter break:  On home
    A brief theoretical discussion drawing from recent literature (Mary Douglas, Rybczynski, Rapport and Overing) which explores issues relating to the history and concept of home and the relationships and people it houses. 
  • 4. Relationships that count and how to count them
    The already complex house-holding and familial relations in The Park were compounded by the desire of residents to stay together as a community when they moved into formal houses in The Village. The chapter introduces and interrogates assumptions about kinship and affinity.
  • Chapter break: Ceremonies and celebrations
    Huge efforts were made to hold elaborate ‘white weddings’ and to dress up for Matriculation dances to achieve the outward appearance of ‘decency’ that was deemed appropriate for the owners of a walled house as opposed to a shack.
  • 5. ‘Just working for food’: making a living, making do and getting by
    The chapter examines shifts in employment and income over time and describes the contradictory process through which one portion of a community becomes deproletarianised at the same time as another portion is proletarianised. 
  • Chapter break: Recipes
    ‘Beef stew for lovers’ (or, ‘A hungry man is an angry man’); Dinah’s Cabbage à la Rastafari; Veronica’s stamp mielies en boontjies; Queenie’s Gingerbeer; Raymond’s Decorative Flypapers; Raymond’s cockroach repellent. Together these illustrate local economies (cash, social and emotional).
  • 6. Truth, lies, stories and straight-talk: on addressing another
    The chapter introduces narrative approaches in social sciences.  It examines life stories and offers a critique of the academic use of these.  Part of the discussion centres on what cannot be said: silences and elliptical speech hint at witchcraft and the undoing of sociality. 
  • Chapter break: From The Park to The Village
    Images of the demolition of the shantytown and the building of The Village
  • 7. Illness and accompaniment
    Local concepts of the body and illness, illness taxonomies and changing understandings of HIV/AIDS. The chapter explores coping strategies against a backdrop of inadequate healthcare resources and impoverishment and concludes with a discussion of how death and dying inform culture. 
  • Chapter break: Ordentlike huise, ordentlike mense
    Images of the new settlement, of ‘decent houses’ for ‘decent people’.
  • Conclusion: Raw life, new hope?
  • Endnotes
  • Glossary of select Afrikaans terms
  • References
  • Index
Of interest to:
This text is recommended for students, academics and practitioners in the social sciences, particularly anthropology, sociology and urban geography, policy makers, and a general readership.
Author/Editor details:
Dr Fiona Ross is an Associate Professor in the Department of Social Anthropology at the University of Cape Town and a rated scientist, holding a prestigious NRF President’s Award. She has written several books, including Bearing Witness: Women and the South African TRC, (2003, Pluto Press), and Houses Without Doors:  Diffusing Domesticity in Die Bos, (1995, Human Sciences Research Council).