Elite assemblages: White diamonds and the consumption of exclusion in Durban’s outer suburbs

Richard Ballard and Gareth Jones

During South Africa’s housing boom of the 2000s, a number of relatively elite gated communities appeared in Durban’s western suburb of Hillcrest. Although these elite spaces will no doubt over time become racially mixed as they have in Gauteng, they were, at the time of our research in 2006, overwhelmingly white. Although it is not difficult to find evidence of social prejudice which might inform these patterns, they come about through a variety of material and other factors, not the least of which is wealth. Arun Saldanha (2007) proposes that racial formations can be understood through the notion of viscosity – particular kinds of bodies stick to one another and to particular places as a result of complex assemblages of material and social elements. Hillcrest’s gated communities are assemblages of elements such as wealth, skin colour, prejudice, cultural capital, economic inequality, crime and fears of crime, boom gates, fences, and even plants and animals (Ballard and Jones 2010).

This paper considers the way in which the mainly white residents of these gated communities engaged issues of social diversity through the intersection of race and class. Firstly, affluent white people function as the bodily, financial and cultural norm as a result, if nothing else, of the demographic make up of these spaces. Yet there is an awkward relationship between race and class homogeneity and ideas of community. The introduction of American-style holiday rituals in order to foster a sense of neighbourhood sat awkwardly alongside fears that individuality and autonomy were being compromised by claustrophobic intimacy with neigbours. Secondly, affluent black people might qualify financially but their bodily difference from the norm triggers requirements for them to demonstrate their cultural compatibility. Thirdly, less affluent white residents who rent or buy smaller units occupied an ambiguous position. They might have been visually normal. They might even be lauded for being hard working ordinary people. Yet as a result of their class, they are seen as having the potential to inflict disruptive behavior on the estate. Finally, poor black bodies also occupied an ambivalent position. On one hand they were physically, financially and culturally disqualified from the community, a group of people who were ineluctably linked to the threat of crime in the minds of dominant residents groups. Yet, it is precisely such people who build, clean, garden and guard the estate. These workers required exemption from their class and race disqualification in order to access and service the domestic worlds of financially and physically different people.

Date: 28th February 2012

Time: 15:00-16:30

Venue: ccrri seminar room, 2nd floor George Campbell building, South Campus, Howard College Campus. Use the south entrance into the building; and Entrance 3 on Rick Turner (Francois) Road if driving.

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