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Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Fictive capital and economies of desire: A case study of illegal diamond buying and apartheid landscapes in 19th century southern Africa
by Weiss, Lindsay Moira, Ph.D., Columbia University, 2009, 515; 3393600
Abstract (Summary)

This is an historical, archaeological and anthropological study of the role of the illegal diamond trade on the late 19th century Diamond Fields in South Africa. The poor visibility of the illegal diamond trade made the very suspicion of this trade a very potent one, a suspicion which came to occupy the frustrations of growing numbers of failed diggers and was directed at the public taverns and eating houses at the edges of the diggings. This dissertation examines one such space, and the sort of material culture and conduct that would have been associated with the illicit diamond trade. The surprisingly domestic and aspirational material signature at this site indicates an illicit trade that was not only imperceptible but a trade which blurred the lines between criminality and class. The shape and form of the segregated worker landscape which came to dominate the fields over the next decade were a direct response to this, not merely separating the races on the fields, but apportioning very specific and discrete domestic capacities and obligations.

These 19th century apartheid landscapes were not abstract, but emerged in the wake of specific commodity flows and architectural forms. The transformation of these built forms, and material flows, while explicitly about the eradication of illegal diamond buying, came to take on the subtle work of criminalizing non-laboring African bodies and eradicating public spaces that had previously afforded illegible or interracial transactions. The systematic erasure of the hybrid and informal registers in which public spaces of the fields had originally operated, lent finality to the criminalizing of certain laboring bodies through a complex mesh of prisons, hostels, and concentration camps.

These coercive landscapes, and their systematic shattering of personal and community histories derailed the historical continuities between early diamond rushers and the laborers which replaced them, early illicit traders and the entrepreneurial spirit so definitive of the contemporary South African informal settlements. The exclusionary force of the apartheid landscape not only criminalizes and separates the population at one historical moment, but perpetuates this exclusion by historically abstracting those same people and spaces. This dissertation, therefore, is an attempt to delineate a genealogy of outlawed spaces and communities, those hybrid zones of the early Diamond Fields which have a great resonance with the politics and entrepreneurialism of informal settlements of contemporary South Africa.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Meskell, Lynn
School: Columbia University
School Location: United States -- New York
Source: DAI-A 71/02, Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Archaeology, Cultural anthropology, African history, South African Studies
Keywords: Colonialism, Diamonds, Materiality, Neoliberalism, Nineteenth century, South Africa
Publication Number: 3393600
ISBN: 978-1-109-60475-7
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