Community Research and Development Information Service - CORDIS



Project ID: 615564
Funded under: FP7-IDEAS-ERC
Country: Israel

Mid-Term Report Summary - APARTHEID-STOPS (Apartheid -- The Global Itinerary: South African Cultural Formations in Transnational Circulation, 1948-1990)

One of the fundamental insights of our project, “Apartheid—The Global Itinerary: South African Cultural Formations in Transnational Circulation, 1948-1990,” is contained in the understanding that apartheid moves things. Against familiar accounts of the isolationism of the South African apartheid regime, manifested in its notorious banning of television until the mid-nineteen-seventies, current research emphasizes South Africa’s entanglement in the world beyond its borders during the Cold War. But researchers often miss the crucial insight that the global contest over the meaning of apartheid and of resistance to it occurs on the terrain of culture. By way of contrast, our research project pursues the understanding that apartheid functioned in many respects as a catalyst of transnational cultural production.

The South African apartheid government exiled political activists, intellectuals, writers, photographers and musicians. Literary texts and journalism depicting racial oppression circulated within transnational discursive networks.Sounds traveled as exiled musicians like Miriam Makeba and Hugh Masekela achieved international renown. Powerful photographic images documenting the brutality of the South African regime and popular resistance to it riveted the international gaze. Both exile and the world-wide circulation of genres of expressive culture, helped to propel the political signifier “apartheid” into the international public sphere where it allowed dissidents and intellectuals to consolidate a global discourse around racial inequality under apartheid.

The particular innovation of our project lies in the recognition that the global discourse around injustice *in* South Africa also framed struggles over racism and social inequality for constituencies *beyond* South Africa’s borders. Anti-apartheid activism was a prominent thread in debates over civil rights in the United States and over human rights in global settings. It affected black nationalism and internationalism in Africa and the diaspora. It was bound up with pan-Africanism, decolonization, communism and cosmopolitanism. At their multiple points of diffusion in the global arena, apartheid-era South African cultural formations were enfolded within situated local narratives and political conflicts. Thus, through charting the passage of political exiles, performers, texts, music, plays and photographs within these networks of global circulation, we are able to use apartheid-era culture as a lens to train the gaze on societies other than South Africa. In effect, our intervention turns the received historical narrative "inside out."

Our findings to date have been exciting. We have rerouted the archival study of apartheid-era culture through a variety of media, in addition to more conventional textual sources. We have restored forgotten players like the West African nation of Guinea to view as powerful voices in the anti-apartheid struggle. We have produced new readings of the institutional and ideological fabric of transnational political solidarity movements in the ongoing battle against racism.Through our research publications and blog, we are carving out new itineraries for the understanding of the role of culture in social change.The bleak resurgence of racism in the present political moment serves as an ongoing reminder of the need to use the historical record to help us imagine new alliances in the face of the threat that racism poses to our shared humanity.

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