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We understand our collective theoretical and ethnographic interests to coalesce and cohere around the following four themes, which define UJ Anthropology’s particular research, supervision and teaching priorities, strategy and strengths:
Transitions: personhood, gender and generation At UJ anthropology, we recognise the importance of gender in its full spectrum. We have staff working on various aspects on gender, through the lens of generation across lifecycles. We are interested, at various levels of social life, in understanding what it means to do gender and claim personhood in societies across different contexts. We ask questions such as how men/women/gender non-conforming persons come to claim their gender/s in society across various transitory phases in their lifecycles. We look specifically at the role of place, social context, institutions and power in the coming into gender of persons
Bodies, subjectivities and corporealities ‘The body’ does not exist. Bodies are made, constituted, stabilised and bounded through processes of containment, exchange, transference and making. In our department we are interested in such processes through which bodies emerge, are transformed or held still. These range from medicalised procedures to exhumations, and from sexual practices to sleep and therapeutic procedures, and from techniques of self-making, sports, and self-discipline, to gestures, ritual performance and violence. Bodies are therefore subject to hugely specialised activities of making, which are nevertheless constrained, enabled and shaped by materialities and corporealities that exceed registers of meaning and control. Projects on biomedical trials, epidemics and syndemics, medical practices and institutions, point to the power of medical pharmaceuticals and technologies in shaping bodies and subjectivities. Other work on exhumations and the remaking of the dead in Zimbabwe points to the excessivity of human substances which demands but defies meaning and the stabilisation of contained bodies, persons and pasts. These projects link to the theme of gender, generation and transitions by emphasising how materialities and techniques are entangled with personhood and society.
Cities, materialities and geographies Grounded in the anthropology of landscape, space and place, we focus on contemporary urbanism, drawing particularly on recent approaches towards materiality, aesthetics, and the sensorial in critical geography, to explore the everyday production of city life. African urbanism poses important questions about inequalities, mobilities, and the making of futures in the face of the privatisation of public life and new models of segregation and securatisation. Simultaneously, African cities provide unique insights into the making and deployment of infrastructures and the unofficial ways in which residents create the city. Members of the department have worked on how politics is mediated through urban aesthetics in the context of Angola’s oil boom, are producing new ethnographies of urban life in Nairobi, and studying how Johannesburg has become a site for the exportation of securatised urbanism across the African continent.
Institutions, labour, precarity and belonging We are interested in understanding the multiple navigations of contemporary belonging in the reconfiguration of state-making, economies, citizenship, and labour regimes. Work within these fields seeks to interrogate practices of power and its contestation. This includes the fields of law, activism, and questions of agency, as well as new areas for the study of politics such as the built environment, bodily control, and new technologies. For example, how do precarious workers in Johannesburg engage in struggles to reclaim belonging in the workplace? In what ways do people assert power through the occupation of space? How do unofficial institutions shape the governance of everyday life? How do buildings act as a means of political inclusion or exclusion?