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Senior Research Seminar: Dr Maxim Bolt (University of Birmingham)

When Nov 08, 2019
from 04:15 PM to 06:00 PM
Where Edmund Leach Seminar Room, Dept of Social Anthropology, Free School Lane
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Dr Maxim Bolt (University of Birmingham)

Bureaucratic complicity and the temporalities of the law: property inheritance and the post-apartheid state in urban South Africa

Soweto (credit: Maxim Bolt)In the wake of political transition, how is bureaucracy positioned between popular expectations and a state’s deep continuities? The end of apartheid in South Africa produced a new mission for government – a programme of deracialisation enshrined in one of the world’s most progressive constitutions. But, even as bureaucracies were restyled and restaffed, apartheid-era legal administration cast long shadows: the authority of old statutory laws, court judgments, and existing official procedure. In Johannesburg, where a huge number of black urbanites acquired new property rights, and freehold to township rental homes, inheritance has become a particular pressure point. The heightened stakes of homeownership have amplified popular ambivalence about the state’s succession rules. A single, uniform system stands for an end to segregation. But it paradoxically removed state recognition of customary succession for the black majority. Inheritance law prioritising nuclear families and individualised ownership stands opposed to patrilineal norms as a collective ideal for organising kinship and property. Faced with popular suspicion of the state and its processes, post-apartheid officials find themselves complicit with complainants, seeing as anachronistic the very legal parameters that govern their work. Bureaucratic complicity foregrounds the competing temporalities of the law itself, requiring us to rethink ‘seeing like a state’ where the state second-guesses its own frames of reference.

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