Haunted by the Rebellion of the Poor: Civil Society and the Racialized Problem of the (Non-)economic Subject

Haunted by the Rebellion of the Poor: Civil Society and the Racialized Problem of the (Non-)economic Subject

Anna Selmeczi

Intrigued by the so-called “rebellion of the poor,” this paper traces back the cur-rent South African concern with popular protest to its reconfiguration during the last years of the apartheid order. Focusing on the discourse around grassroots resistance in the mid- to late-1980s, I begin by showing how, in juxtaposition to an ideal notion of civil society, popular mo-bilization had been largely delegitimized and the emancipatory politics of ungovernability recast as antidemocratic by the first few years of the post-apartheid regime. In deploying par-ticular notions of violence and culture, this discursive shift, I suggest, fed into reconstructing the ungovernable subject as the racial other of the new South Africa’s citizenry. The second part of the paper mobilizes Foucault’s genealogy of liberalism to draw parallels between this process and the liberal effort to resolve the potentially conflicting principles of governing the economic subject and the subject of rights within the realm of civil society. Finally, via the postcolonial critique of liberal notions of civility and their rootedness in racial thinking, I sug-gest that civil society secures the governability of the population through rendering the poten-tially disruptive freedom of the people as the excess freedom of the racialized other.

 

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