Editorial: Body Politics and the Gendered Crafting of Citizenship

Sophie Oldfield, Elaine Salo, Ann Schlyter
Feminist Africa, 2009

In post-colonial Zambia and post-apartheid South Africa, citizenship is assumed to be universal and to carry rights. Yet, in practice, in the everyday context in which ordinary women and men live out their lives, its meanings and values are differentiated in bodies and their politics, reflecting the social, spatial, gendered, and racial nature of inequality. Framed by global processes and national discourses, the crafting of citizenship and the substantiation of rights in urban Southern Africa remain fraught. In this issue of Feminist Africa, we elaborate on contesting body politics and the gendered crafting of urban citizenship in Lusaka and Cape Town. The notion of ‘crafting’ citizenship is central to our analysis. The lived negotiation of citizenship and the ways it is made meaningful in everyday peripheral parts of Southern African cities are neither static nor decreed through law. Instead, citizenship and its meanings are negotiated in mutually constitutive processes that interlink individuals, communities and representatives of the state. Through such processes, agency is progressively nurtured in relationships within homes and through the quotidian activities that constitute everyday life. At times it is fought for in the public sphere, in open opposition to the state. The meanings of citizenship and the manner in which it is contested or embodied through oppositional action, are thus not the predictable outcomes of structural configurations of power, or a romantic reflection of agencythrough-revolt. The flows and processes of power cannot be read in formulaic fashion from a model of asymmetrical social geometry where the powerless are simply dominated by the powerful. The notion of ‘crafting’ allows us to analyze the processes of negotiation and lived substantiation of citizenship in local contexts – places and times – saturated with gender relations, where meanings are found in and fought for through embodied everyday practices and discourses. Our contributors focus on the gendered meanings of the everyday lived spaces – of homes and neighbourhoods in townships and peri-urban peripheries of Cape Town and Lusaka. The individual authors reflect on the creation of socio-spatial meanings and gendered agency generated in the everyday negotiation of body politics and citizenship in these contexts. Through grounded research and finely grained ethnography, the papers frame body politics and citizenship as gendered, contingent and reproduced at multiple scales, and built through the everyday use of material and cultural resources. Peri-urban contexts are conceptualised as physical, material as well as social places in which socio-political processes inform and shape citizenship, negotiated in gendered and generationally specific ways.

The conversation interlinking the papers travels between Lusaka and Cape Town, framed by Zambian and South African national debates, as well as broader regional flows, histories and politics, particularly the geopolitics of South Africa’s regional presence. This comparative discussion offers in-depth, qualitative work that engages carefully with particular places and times to examine the micro-relations and politics of women’s, and in one case, men’s everyday lives. Ethnographic theorisation across these borders draws together a regional Southern African experience. Through this rich analysis, we speak back to often de-contextualised and a-temporal global development narratives about gender, body politics and citizenship. The politics and discursive strategies of these development and globalization narratives write out and efface the gendered negotiations that generate agency through lived experiences. In other words, the varied tactics and strategies that women and men in poor families – so-called marginal bodies in marginal places – enact and perform in everyday lives in peripheral urban places are occluded in these grandiose analytical tales. Consequently, people appear only as passive bystanders – the support cast to the all-agentive structural social processes that inform neo-liberal capital. By focusing on these margins, we bring a critical gendered analysis of body politics to the examination of the crafting of citizenship in contemporary urban Southern Africa.

There are, of course, limits to this comparison: in its depth it is narrow, focused on particular Southern African urban contexts and experiences. It is thus also framed in the specificities of Southern African colonial legacies and post-colonial conditions of segregation, its histories and persistence in the contemporary era (Myers, 2006; Oldfield, 2005; Salo, 2004). At the same time, Lusaka and Cape Town are bound up in powerful logics of modernity, shaping politics, and an almost obsessive developmental focus on order and formality, linking, in often surprising ways, the colonial and post-colonial urban condition. Collectively, this volume places gender and everyday body politics at the forefront, a layer of analysis often silent in much Southern African scholarship on citizenship (McEwan, 2005) and questions of urban space. More specifically, it builds on a long and rich tradition of scholarship in Feminist Africa, which reflects on the situated positions from which we speak, act and from which we ultimately create knowledge.

Cover artwork for Feminist Africa, Issue 13
© Tariro Karise: Proud Of Myself

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