Violent Cultures, Acting Citizens and the Passive State: Contesting Political Morality in South Africa

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In this article, I discuss how the use of violence has become a mechanism for mostly poor citizens in contemporary South Africa to contest the moral functioning of government and state institutions. More essentially, the article locates the place of violence within the broader state-society relationship. I argue that this interaction between the state and ordinary citizens in South Africa reveals the everyday appropriation of violence by the poor to foster an ‘effective’ social and political contract with the state. By taking cues from the everyday social struggles of the poor that manifest themselves through social protest, this article argues that the use of violence in such struggles is largely an outcome of a weakening moral order on the part of political authority. My evidence for this claim is purely qualitative and ethnographic. I engage with this evidence in this article to reflect on the agency of the figure of a ‘violent citizen’. In this reflection, I show how this agency is shaped mostly by everyday moral concerns related to the normative practice of government and party politics especially at the local level. On the overall, my aim in this article is twofold. Firstly, I seek to highlight how violence is often appropriated in the moral struggles of ordinary citizens in South Africa. Lastly, I also seek to refute the narrative that violence as it is used in the popular struggles of the ordinary citizens in South Africa is largely a ‘criminal’ activity.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)37-50
Number of pages14
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished (in print/issue) - 2 Jan 2019


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