Imagined Homes, Concrete Houses and Bureaucratic subjects: People-State Encounters in Cape Town’s Housing Landscape

James Clacherty

Eastridge is a low-cost housing development in Cape Town constructed and managed by the Cape Town Community Housing Company, a state-owned but privately managed company. The residents of Eastridge, most of whom have been living in their houses for 17 years, were recently declared ‘unlawful occupants’ in houses they expected to be the legal owners of years ago. Through their protracted struggle to receive permanent legal title to their homes, the residents encounter the state in ways that are destabilising, even violent, at the same time as being intimate and mundane. Using ethnographic and oral history data gathered from three households in Eastridge in 2018 I explore the ways in which families encounter and navigate the complex network of institutions, sites, agents and artefacts that make up the imaginary of the ‘state’ (Wafer and Oldfield, 2015). I also explore the ways they cope with the uncertainties, disruptions and constraints introduced through these encounters in their every-day home-making practices. By paying close attention to the material form of the house and the way the residents alter it, decorate it and maintain it over time as well as the piles of receipts, bills, letters of demand and contracts that the residents accumulate and carefully store, we can gain an insight into the lived experience of the state. An insight that allows us to see the state and state power as a contingent, dynamic and incomplete process that emerges out of specific encounters with its ‘citizens’.

Cape Town, housing, master thesis

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