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Race as Common Sense: Racial Classification in Twentieth-Century South Africa

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  23 May 2014

Abstract:

This paper is an analysis of state practice in respect of racial classification and its epistemological underpinnings in twentieth-century South Africa. It shows how apartheid racial categories—drawing heavily on those enacted by the segregationist state—were wielded as instruments of surveillance and control by a state animated by fantasies of omniscience as much as omnipotence. The architects of apartheid racial classification policies recognized explicitly that racial categories were constructs, rather than descriptions of real essences—a version of the idea of race which enabled the bureaucratization of “common sense” notions of racial difference and which contributed direcdy to the enormous powers wielded by racial classifiers. If constructs, these categories were powerfully rooted in the materiality of everyday life. The ubiquity of the state's racial designations, and the extent to which they meshed with lived hierarchies of class and status, meant that apartheid's racial grid was strongly imprinted in the subjective experience of race.

Résumé:

Résumé:

Cet article analyse les pratiques de l'état en matière de classification raciale, et leurs implications épistémologiques dans l'Afrique du Sud du vingt-et-unième siècle. Nous démontrons comment les catégories raciales de l'apartheid – largement inspirées par celles promulguées par l'état ségrégationniste – furent exercées comme instruments de surveillance et de contrôle par un état animé de fantasmes d'omniscience tout comme d'omnipotence. Les architectes des politiques de classification raciale de l'apartheid ont explicitement reconnu que les catégories raciales étaient des constructions plutôt que des descriptions d'une nature réelle—une version de l'idée de race qui a permis la bureaucratisation de la notion ‘de base’ de la différence raciale, et qui a directement contribué à l'immense pouvoir exercé par ces classificateurs raciaux. Même en tant que constructions, ces catégories furent puissamment enracinées dans la matérialité de la vie de tous les jours. L'ubiquité des désignations raciales établies par l'état, ainsi que la mesure dans laquelle ces désignations se sont engrenées avec des hiérarchies vécues de statut et de classe, signifièrent que la grille raciale de l'apartheid fut fortement imprimée dans l'expérience subjective de race.

Type
Research Article
Copyright
Copyright © African Studies Association 2001

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