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The Provocations of Neoliberalism: Contesting the Nation and Liberation after Apartheid

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This paper is part of an ongoing effort to make sense of the turbulent forces at play in South Africa in relation to other parts of the world. Engaging debates over neoliberalism from a South African vantage point, I show how currently influential theories cast in terms of class project, governmentality, and hegemony are at best partial. A more adequate understanding is not just a matter of combining these different dimensions into a more encompassing model of “neoliberalism in general”. The challenge, rather, is coming to grips with how identifiably neoliberal projects and practices operate on terrains that always exceed them. A crucially important dimension of what is going on in South Africa is that escalating struggles over the material conditions of life and livelihood are simultaneously struggles over the meaning of the nation and liberation, as well as expressions of profound betrayal. These processes underscore the analytical and political stakes in attending to interconnected historical geographies of specifically racialized forms of dispossession, and how they feature in the present. The paper concludes with a call for a properly post-colonial frame of understanding that builds on the synergies and complementarities between a Gramscian reading of Fanon and relational conceptions of the production of space set forth by Lefebvre.

Keywords: Fanon; Gramsci; South Africa; dispossession; neoliberalism; race

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: University of California, Berkeley, CA, USA University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban, South Africa;, Email:

Publication date: September 1, 2008


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