Friday, May 23, 2008

Dear All

So, this, for now, is the farewell post. The pre-exam farewell post, that is. At the risk of turning this into a vote of thanks speech, I want to say to the lot of you, 'thank you' so very much for an energetic, creative few weeks and months; for putting up with my research moods and whims, and handling the deliberate lack of structure and rampant anxieties like pro's! Yesterday's final lecture brought the 301 class together, and standing before you guys overwhelmed me beyond measure. I am proud of the work produced this term, and I hope that the social science degree you are about to complete, will colour your life in wonderful ways. The bad news is that from this point onward, you will, for the rest of your life, analyse EVERYTHING. Maybe thats the good news.

In terms of the exam, as was discussed in class yesterday, remember you have two hours for two essays. Plan your use of time carefully. You have a choice of three essay questions of which you choose the two that most appeal to you. Your readings and notes on Foucault and Derrida are of most relevance in preparing for the exam. Also rely on discourse around social constructions of identity, looking at the various features that might impact thereon. Feel free to stop by my office should you wish to chat about exam prep, research, etc. My consultation times are daily from 10am-12 as of now, and until the 6 June 2008 (The exam is on the 7 June 2008). I leave UKZN on the 30 June.

Best wishes

Friday, May 16, 2008


Cultural Hybridities and Purities: Art Exhibition - Durban Art Gallery

Produced by Leora Farber, in collaboration with the South African design team Strangelove, Carlo Gibson and Ziemek Pater, 'Dis-Location / Re-Location' will be on show at the Durban Art Gallery from 15 May until 27 July.
The premise of this multi-media, multi-disciplinary exhibition is how cultural identities are formed, re-defined and become 'hybridised'. The body of artwork challenges common assumptions that exist regarding cultural purity — one such assumption being that identity is static.

Leora Farber is a senior lecturer in the Fine Art Department at the University of Johannesburg. She has exhibited both nationally and internationally and is the recipient of numerous awards and research grants. Clothing designers Carlo Gibson and Ziemek Pater are the owners of the company and clothing label Strangelove which specializes in designing and producing original, individual and innovative clothing.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Final Lecture: Exam Prep and Book Awards

Dear All

I will attend the final lecture at Chem A on Thursday 22 May 2008, by kind invitation of Vanessa, in order to speak to you a bit about preparation for the June exam. In addition, there will be a book award presentation to the top thirty students in that time. Think of this as our little farewell party. I look forward to meeting you for this last time.

All the best


Friday, April 25, 2008

Hats off to Reflexive Sociological Texts: Undressing Durban 2007

Join the Discussion here:

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

These Essays Not Yet Received!



206517813 GOVENDER, D
205521944 KHAN, GB
204010978 MAISTRY, JD
200308041 MAPHANGA, NS
202515903 MBATHA, S
204513469 NAIR, DG
204000839 SHINGA, MM

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Final Essay Extension


The Final Essay deadline has been extended to Wed 9 April 2008 @ 12noon.
If you are, at this point, happy with your final, please come in and see me, I will accept hand-ins before the 9th as well. All the best.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Racism illustrates warped power dynamics

Racism illustrates warped power dynamics
by Patrick Craven

Hi all.. This article was recently published by IOLS research newsletter at UKZN online. Read the article at the following link, and join the discussion at their page/link at the bottom of the on the discussion link and you will be directed to the iols commentary blog. IOLS also encourages writing from students, so if anyones interested in writing an article for publication, let me know.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Creative Inspirations from the course!

Hi. As one of the creative inspirations from the course, and inspired by the movie Crash, one of the students has presented the following poem... Here, I am sharing it with the rest of you! My own inspirations are attached here too... in the form of paintings...The first one is called 's o c i e t y', and is a beaded canvas (i used square plastic beads and chains, and the play of colour and light is of particular interest to me).. and the second one is an oil on canvas, titled 'MultiCULTuralism'.


What is a difference
Something unique and distinct
New and never experienced
opposing what you are used to

A difference is what we strive for
In day to day living
We sweat to bring a difference
A difference in a form of bread for survival

We even long for that special someone
Whom we wish to devot our lives to
To make our lives different
Pleasant and sharable with the other

Perhaps after vows are done
We want to celebrate in a different way
In a different special place
To make it a rememberable one

Race is the difference
A distinction according to colour
Skin colour,eye colour
And perhaps the degree of the streaghtness of the hair

There are two types of dfifference good and bad
Who created diffference
Perhaps God for if it was men
It would imply that man created man

Who decides which difference is good or whichj is bad
Perhaps man satisfying his attitude and beliefs
Why racial prejudice
Historically white to black
post-election black to white or vice verca

Why not see race a a good difference
A difference that is embedded within cultural diversity
And thus race could be adventurous
We unlock the uniqueness and distinctiveness
across racial bounderies

Who created colour and certain connotations related to each
Red for love,pink for feminity
Altimately white for brightness and civilisation
Black for backwardness and damness
As defined by the Western Oxford dictionary

Human beings are not animals or things to be identified by colour
Neither are they objects around our social world
What is being refered to as white is not really white
But perhaps pinkish
What is labelled black may be brownish

Who catergorised human to racial groups
Why not perhaps according weight,or hieght
Why colour when physical features and blood is the same colour
There is but one race,the human race!!!

written by :Nokulunga Khanyisile Mkhize

Friday, March 14, 2008


A movie like CRASH, situates itself around car crashes and the ANGER that is activated by them. Anger manifests itself in various ways. Anger, is the result of deep-rooted fear and hurt. Society tells us that we are 'not good enough'. It suggests that we are 'bad'. How does it do this? By putting us into neat little, controllable boxes. If you are a boy, you must be the best you can be. Play the best sport. Be competitive. Be a good father, son, breadwinner, sportsman, professional,etc. Girls are told early on, that there are certain expected roles and chores. Girls are also terrified of the potential to be stigmatised and labelled as deviant by society. These are internalised. And the deviation brings with it the fear of being seen as 'bad', ie unworthy. Self worth is questioned. This in turn has negative implications for constructions of identity. The pain of inferiority becomes frustration. This in turn becomes anger. Anger has companions. Like prejudice. Conforming to the convenient box that society has labelled for us, makes us feel safe. I may say to you that I am not a racist. But what does this mean? And can that be tested, for example, when I am put under pressure? When anger is activated?
But then, can that be tested, for example, in a matter of life and death?

First, I would like to hear what you think about the movie. How did it make you feel, watching a contemporary depiction of life in LA. And do you think that these examples might relate to our local context? Discuss some of the people or situations in the movie both in terms of how these played out, and how they might have made sense to you. Keep in mind the discussions throughout this course.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Any Questions??!! - Consultation Post!


This is my letter-bOx post. As you know, I have a list of consultation times on my door and as has been mentioned in the blog before. This post is an additional place for comment, question and concerns to be raised. Any questions regards the discursive essay/research, the assessments (also see your course outline) or the exam, can be aired here.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Representation and Interpretation: Whose Ugliness/Whose Beauty?

Todays lecture will focus much on our making meaning from discursive signifiers. Symbols of language; symbols of culture. And questions of our subject positions, representation and subsequent forms of interpretation. We need to deconstruct these concepts in the lecture.

In the meantime though, we discussed work being undertaken by a Masters student in Sociology regards attractiveness. For us, the broad question to unpack is:

What is beauty? What do people see as attractive or unattractive?
And what are the forces and influences that shape our interpretations of 'beauty'?

What role does 'culture' play in constructing our perceptions of beauty?
What role does the media play in this shaping?

Question your own assumptions regarding physical attractiveness and how this might link to ways in which we define masculinities and femininities.

Ask, also, if these conceptions are rigid or fluid? Can they be changed? And How?

For those who missed the class assignment, please attempt this now

I already have a list of those who attended the class assignment. However, for those who were not there, please attempt these questions here, as this serves as a reflective part of the diary/research process.

Class Assignment- Socl 301
Thursday 28 February 2008
This course has aimed to make us question our assumptions, and the things that we may take for granted. We have been brought to a point where we understand the imperative to look beyond the ‘obvious’. As sociologists and as individuals, understanding the social world about understandng the ‘self’, and embracing notions of culture and counter-culture becomes like a game of communication; a language, or a framework of discourse within which we act out our roles in the social world. We are just about halfway through this portion of the contemporary theory course. Walking with you on this journey, are two companions: theory, and your data from your interviews. And along the way, you will meet with opportunity to reflect on your own identity, beliefs, assumptions and ways of being. Let us unpack and define how the weekly themes relate and look at where we are going. In order to do this, I have a few questions which you should read over carefully for a few minutes and then jot down your responses. This is a participatory exercise and will allow both you (as students) and me (as the person facilitating the course) to situate where you are in the course and how it might be shaping your process as a budding social scientist. The challenge in this exercise is to make sure that you do not refer to course notes in any way. Remember, we said that this course is about you! Your answers to these questions need to reveal your own thoughts and reflections and not be weighted down by examples or rhetoric we might have discussed/read. You will need to hand in the answers at the end of class. Please put your name and student id number on your answer page.

Here are your ‘thought-provoking’ questions:
1. In the course, you have been tempted and challenged to question your notion of beliefs, and mostly your assumptions. What is your understanding of knowledge? Where does Your knowledge come from?
2. Has this changed in any way, if so, why and what has prompted this change?
3. How do you envisage/visualize your research project for this course? What are you ideas about going about this ‘diary’ project? What have you done so far?
4. In your interviews, what are the most intimidating thoughts, assumptions and experiences? Have these changed/altered in any way, positively or negatively?
5. How would you deal with an interview that turns into something of a ‘counselling’ session? Discuss what you think might be pro’s and cons of such a situation.
6. What do you think are the important features of a good interview? List at least five.
7. What problems have you had in trying to conduct your interviews? How have you tried to solve these?
8. Share some responses/ideas and detail that you may have encountered, or did not expect, and even some concerns (ethical and other) that you might have regards the research/diary project.

Monday, March 3, 2008

The Diary Project

Hi everyone

Thursdays assignment was a huge success in my opinion. On the one hand, it highlighted the concerns and issues mulling about in everyones minds, made you think about the project in that defined space of time, and allowed me insight into the next phase of the data collection process. The reason taht I provided a platform for pooling data is, as we discussed, about using local resource in order to make sense of contemporary theory available to us, and create our own ideological stances.

We have only two weeks to the Monday 17 March 2008 when I will take in your draft essays for reviewing. Remember what I said: carry out interviews, transcribe them, go throught the material with colour pens to highlight themes of relevance, look at your choice of essay questions, find readings around these themes (reading pack, articles, journals, media, extra readings in the library/online) and start to put this recipe together.

Cakes are DUE:
Please note that I will only accept essays handed in to me during class, and will return these to you on Thursday 20 March during the last lecture. (For those still not sure of the structure, we have lectures on Monday, Tuesday and Thursday) The final essay should be reworked over the study break and handed in on Wednesday 2 April 2008 by 12 noon.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Colonized Consciousness and Othering

The above link is Faith ka-manzi's latest poem, featured at the IOLS newsletter for Feb (released today).. It is an example of political transcript manifested in art. (agency and social consciousness)

In your readings, Barker asks questions about the denigration and subordination of ‘native’ culture by colonial and imperial powers and the relationship between place and diaspora identities.

The concept of diaspora helps us think of identities as fluid, and in motion rather than confined to nature or cultural specifics.

The question of hybridity points to the cultures of the colonial and colonized are inseparable and eventually give rise to a hybrid culture.

So the question that we should ask is: is culture pure? Can culture ever be presented as pure? And also, can language, and dominant practices been seen as pure?

Also, What do we understand by local knowledge systems?

Central to the debate of power and hegemony from the dominant mode/colonizer is the notion of race and ethnicity. So then, ‘othering’ refers to a politics of difference to be found in the postcolonial conceptualizations of social reality.

Discuss some examples of 'othering' as understood by you.
And also.. What is Patriarchy?
What is a colonized consciousness?

Friday, February 22, 2008

Language, Structure, Duality

It is important for us to make the distinction between language as words and the language that is culture. Cultures are related to specific languages, and at the same time culture IS a language by which we make sense of identity and social reality.

The anti-essentialists say that the self is fractured and not unified; that identity is fractured, and constructed by discourse. What do we understand by this?

If subjects appear to be products rather than producers, how can we account for human agency which we have identified as necessary for social action and change?

The same structures that enable us, constrain us.
This is the ‘duality of structure’ and is central to Giddens’ structuration theory.
Give some of your own examples to illustrate how you make sense of this notion of duality.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Internship Opportunity with IOLS-Newsletter

Hi everyone

I have just come across news that the IOLS Newsletter (part of the IOLS research) is looking for undergrad students to assist with some research work. They are keen on using just two students for the moment, and the internship will be a great way of getting some experience in things like transcribing notes from interviews, etc. Please note that this is not a paid position; but it is a wonderful opportunity to engage with some rather dynamic researchers in the unit. If you are selected, you will be contacted only if and when something comes up and this will probably require about an hour of your time per week. The other type of talent that they are looking out for is a budding cartoonist. IOLS newsletter focuses on current issues regards labour, politics and socio-economic concerns, and is distributed widely among students, academics and organisations across the world. They need a cartoonist as part of the facelift being undertaken for the new editions so that they can put together political images that engage the imagination.

Let me know if any of you are interested!


Wednesday, February 20, 2008


Hi All

Please note that as a matter of easy facilitation, your course reading packs will be given out in the lecture tomorrow, Thursday 21 Feb 08. For those of you ambling into the course as late as this (second week of term!), lecture times are as follows:

Monday: 12-20 to 13-05
Tuesday: 10:30 to 12-10
Thursday: 14:10 to 15:40

Since there is no Friday lecture, Thursdays double constitutes a lecture and not a tutorial. The blog now serves as a participatory feature of the course and replaces tutorial sessions. Please make an attempt to engage in the discussions both here and in class, as participation counts for 10% of your assessment! By sharing and learning from each other, we hope to really get into the idea of starting with ourselves, and our own biographies as a resource!

All the best..

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

CULTS, Culture and MemOry

So once we have interrogated notions of culture, and how we are enabled membership into a particular social group by behaving in certain ways that are appropriate to that culture, we ask questions about whether we just merely conform to what culture expects of us, and absorb value systems and practices (like sponges).. or whether we are able to decide, choose, and assimilate.

Does our culture or society make us what we are?
What is a culture. What is a CULT? Cults may be seen as derogatory. Perhaps as counter-culture, as one student raised in class today. So then membership in a CULT can be seen as a response to culture.

We said that culture enables us; and it constrains us. Agency is relative.
Culture is open, cultures may inform each other.

In making social meaning, culture is a text, a language which its members learn.
Language, and discourse suggests that culture is not just absorbed. But language is open to ambiguity. What kinds of ambiguities are apparent to you? Are you able to identify ambiguous messages in your making sense of the social world?

Try to answer these questions and keep in mind the diary project! Can you see the links? Identity is a function of the enculturation process. And culture is language. We need language to make sense of the world. We use language to CREATE our stories. In listening to peoples life stories, which is what you do when you interview someone, we understand the importance of empirical REAL data in the social research process. Biography is important for research. Peoples stories come from how they make sense of life. And Memory is a great way of creating that space for conversation about life. So. Ask people what they remember!!! Remember. Stories are in Memories. Memories are Stories.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Week Two: Beliefs, Traditions, Customs, Culture

Beliefs; Traditions; Customs and Culture...

While i was reading the previous post' comments, I thought to ask myself: well, what are beliefs? what are traditions? what are customs?
rather.. what are our assumptions about them?

Beliefs can be value-systems. Strong MORAL codes. Or they can be seen as PREJUDICES. How do you tell the difference?? When does one persons 'belief' in something become a prejudice or an attack on someone else? And what kind of beliefs are these??

What is culture; and what are the ten UNIQUE features of what you might regard as 'your culture'? Please post your answers from todays class assignment here!

Also, do you think that there is a LINK between Culture and Race?
Yes or No, tell me why you think so..

Friday, February 15, 2008

On agency and the hidden transcript...

These are some of the points we discussed in this weeks lectures. What are examples of hidden transcript that you know of, and what do you think of the concept? (Students who have not attempted commenting at the first post should do so.)

“The term agency is usually juxtaposed to structure and is often no more than a synonym for action, emphasizing implicitly the undetermined nature of human action, as opposed to the alleged determinism of structural theories. If it has a wider meaning, it is to draw attention to the psychological and social psychological make-up of the actor, and to imply the capacity for willed (voluntary) action.”

From the Oxford Concise Dictionary of Sociology.

Marx: Base/Superstructure:

For Marx, the origin of determination is in people’s own activities

Marxism attempts to relate the production and reproduction of social reality to the material and economic organization of life. This is articulated through the base and superstructure model: It suggests that -

• the foundation of society is the economic structure;
• legal and political superstructures arise from the base;
• definite forms of social consciousness (awareness of social reality) correspond to the above processes.

So then this suggests that it is the economic life of society that determines the social, political and spiritual processes of life.

Social being determines consciousness instead of the other way around.

Richard Williams book “Problems in Materialism and Culture” asserts that it is difficult for most people to move beyond experienced reality (becomes absolute to them).

A dominant culture is perpetuated by schools, work, family, etc.
And reality comes to depend on them

Dominant modes ignore the full range of potential and actual human agency.

But in critique of Marx base/superstructure model, Williams says that at some point, no dominant culture or mode of production can exhaust the full range of human potential (both practiced and imagined).

It is the quality of agency that distinguishes active society from passive society.

The emergence of agency takes human creativeness, instigated by the contradictions in social awareness… between expectations and achievements or allowances.
Agency derives from environment, and social awareness or social consciousness.

Agency depends on how people perceive others:
People could be self-righteous or have the naïve belief that everyone shares the same view. On the other hand, they could make realistic judgements of dominant social processes.

Social consciousness could be a false consciousness;
It could refer to feelings of powerlessness;
And it could depict a real awareness based on balanced judgements.

Agency needs to be awakened by social consciousness. And action then realters consciousness.

An example of agency occurs in the concept of the public vs hidden transcript.


Until the philosophy which hold one race superior
And another
Is finally
And permanently
And abandoned -
Everywhere is war -
Me say war.

That until there no longer
First class and second class citizens of any nation
Until the colour of a man's skin
Is of no more significance than the colour of his eyes -
Me say war.

That until the basic human rights
Are equally guaranteed to all,
Without regard to race -
Dis a war.

That until that day
The dream of lasting peace,
World citizenship
Rule of international morality
Will remain in but a fleeting illusion to be pursued,
But never attained -
Now everywhere is war - war.

And until the ignoble and unhappy regimes
that hold our brothers in Angola,
In Mozambique,
South Africa
Sub-human bondage
Have been toppled,
Utterly destroyed -
Well, everywhere is war -
Me say war.

War in the east,
War in the west,
War up north,
War down south -
War - war -
Rumours of war.
And until that day,
The African continent
Will not know peace,
We Africans will fight - we find it necessary -
And we know we shall win
As we are confident
In the victory

Of good over evil -
Good over evil, yeah!
Good over evil -
Good over evil, yeah!
Good over evil -
Good over evil, yeah! /fadeout/

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Week One: Contemporary Social Theory as Critique of Classical Theory

Addressing subjectivity and agency

In this weeks lecture series, we looked at our assumptions and questioned our notions of knowledge, asking questions about the relevance of sociological theory and research.

We are in the process of actively changing and shaping our own minds..
While for the most part, we rely on our experiences and often deeply held assumptions to make sense of the social world.. We do this by using the sociological imagination as a tool to see how our 'stories', our own biographies, our own lives fit into the broader contemporary social and immediate historical context.

Can you challenge your own deeply held beliefs?
Do you dare to abandon them?
Do you dare to challenge your assumptions, traditions? What are they?
What are the ten most unique features of what you can claim to be 'your culture'?
Do you dare to challenge and influence your own community and society?

Feel free to reply or comment at these posts. If you are not a registered blog user, your comments will be published as anonymous (click on the anonymous option) and just remember to sign off after your comment with your name and student ID number. An example appears as Comment number one. You may introduce yourself if you like, talk about what most interests you about sociology, and even if you think studying social theory is a waste of time? And why! Try sharing your responses to the reflective questions above.. in our process of studying social science remember what Anthony Giddens had to say:

"Learning Sociology is in part a process of self-exploration"

So then, this course is about you. It is about you as a student of sociology; you as an individual. While participation here counts as part of your class participation assessment (10% of year mark), engaging in chat and discussions here will enhance and enrich your experience of the course. Group dynamic is important, and your shared views will create a wonderful energy of debate. This way, we can all learn from each other! So lets get this started!

Thursdays lecture will focus on Marx' Base/Superstructure model and look at the example of creative forms of resistance to dominance.. 'Public transcript vs Hidden transcript'

Readings of interest: Soweto Poetry as example of 'Hidden Transcript'.

Note: Reading Packs should be available by next week.