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Reconfiguring the culture of kinship: poor people's tactics during South Africa's transition from apartheid

  • Andrew D. Spiegel

One product of the vicissitudes of apartheid-era labour migration, of persistent constraints on urban settlement and of continuing post-apartheid oscillating migration between South Africa's cities and countryside has been extensive domestic fluidity for many South African working people. As a consequence, they have repeatedly created new social networks across the urban–rural social field. In making sense of those networks by reconfiguring their notions of kinship and clanship, they have demonstrated the significance of kinship as an identity idiom. Based on research in Cape Town's largest African township during the early 1990s period of transition from apartheid, the article shows how, through people's use of notions of clanship, they have recursively reconstructed their idiom of kinship in a context of systemic instability. This article uses ethnographic data from that time and context to argue that we need to understand kinship as a cultural resource, pragmatically used and reinvented over and over again, each time emerging anew. In doing so, the article shows that kinship is not a fixed, recordable structure and that, like so many aspects of culture, it is repeatedly reinvented and reconstituted in order to address pragmatic circumstances.

Pour beaucoup de travailleurs sud-africains, l'un des produits des vicissitudes de la migration de main-d’œuvre sous l'apartheid, des contraintes persistantes sur l'implantation urbaine et de la migration oscillante continue post-apartheid entre les villes et la campagne sud-africaines, a été une importante fluidité domestique. En conséquence, ces travailleurs ont créé de nouveaux réseaux sociaux de façon répétée dans le champ social ruro-urbain. En donnant du sens à ces réseaux en reconfigurant leurs notions de parenté et d'appartenance au clan, ils ont démontré l'importance de la parenté comme idiome d'identité. Basé sur des recherches menées dans le plus grand township africain de Cape Town au cours de la période de transition de l'apartheid au début des années 90, l'article montre comment, à travers l'usage de notions d'appartenance au clan, les gens ont reconstruit par récurrence leur idiome de parenté dans un contexte d'instabilité systémique. L'article utilise des données ethnographiques de cette période et de ce contexte pour soutenir qu'il faut comprendre la parenté comme une ressource culturelle utilisée de manière pragmatique et sans cesse réinventée, émergeant chaque fois nouvelle. Ce faisant, l'article montre que la parenté n'est pas une structure fixe enregistrable et que, comme tant d'aspects de la culture, elle est réinventée et reconstituée de manière récurrente pour pallier des circonstances pragmatiques.

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