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Social engineering and revolutionary consciousness: domestic transformations in colonial South Africa

Hickel, Jason (2012) Social engineering and revolutionary consciousness: domestic transformations in colonial South Africa. History and Anthropology, 23 (3). pp. 301-322. ISSN 0275-7206

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Identification Number: 10.1080/02757206.2012.697059


Early colonial administrators relied primarily on indirect rule and “customary law” to govern Africans in segregated reserves by appropriating chiefs and propping up patriarchal power in rural families. But, by the early twentieth century, colonists’ demands for African labour had led to the growth of an urban African population living in “slums” near European cities, outside the controls of indirect rule. Administrators believed that “detribalization” and the deterioration of the patriarchal family had rendered this population dangerously liminal, neither properly “traditional” nor yet entirely “modern”. Fearing that social anomie would give rise to political unrest, the state embarked on a mammoth project to forcibly relocate slum residents into planned townships, where they could be “civilized” for the purposes of control. The planners assigned to this project sought to remake the African family in the modern, nuclear mould, believing that this new order would facilitate utopian docility. But, in the process of trying to create a fully proletarianized, egalitarian population, planners inadvertently helped generate the conditions for the national democratic revolution that developed in the townships in the 1980s, which eventually led to the demise of apartheid.

Item Type: Article
Official URL:
Additional Information: © 2012 Informa
Divisions: Anthropology
Subjects: D History General and Old World > DT Africa
H Social Sciences > HD Industries. Land use. Labor
H Social Sciences > HN Social history and conditions. Social problems. Social reform
H Social Sciences > HQ The family. Marriage. Woman
J Political Science > JV Colonies and colonization. Emigration and immigration. International migration
Date Deposited: 10 Jan 2012 12:29
Last Modified: 20 Oct 2021 01:55

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