South African Studies and the Post-liberation Imaginary

deadline for submissions: 
September 23, 2016
full name / name of organization: 
ACLA American Comparative Literature Association Annual Meeting, Utrect, July 6-9, 2017
contact email: 

In his Specters of Marx, first published in France a year before South Africa’s first free elections, Jacques Derrida wrote that "the historic violence of Apartheid can always be treated as a metonymy. In its past as well as in its present. By diverse paths . . . one can always decipher through its singularity so many other kinds of violence going on in the world. At once part, cause, effect, example . . . what is happening there translates to what takes place here, always here, wherever one is and wherever one looks, closest to home."

Post-1994 during the “Mandela years,” South Africa shifted in the global imaginary from a signifier of racial oppression to become one of how suffering and oppression could be overcome, partially through a transnational circulation of cultural production and reception where certain kinds of narratives dominated (such the rainbow nation, racial reconciliation, etc.). However, with the 2012 Marikana massacre, a more sinister narrative of South Africa may be ascending in the global imaginary while its national politics is also recalibrating internally.

This seminar aims to think about South Africa as a shifting global signifier. We invite papers to think through narratives that might adequately make sense of this shifting context where old nomenclature is inadequate. 

Some papers might take on very recent South African literature that articulates undercurrents that are flowing through new South African cultural formations. Xenophobic violence, service delivery protests, new versions of student movement activism, racialized discourse, predatory capitalism, waning support for the ANC, and extraordinary levels of violence and poverty mark a country that is also circumscribed by a post-liberation imaginary that things can be fought over and changed. How does a post-liberation belief in the ability to change remain? How might it be taking on new forms in the present? What kinds of narratives are shaping South Africa after the first major government involved massacre after liberation irrevocably shifted the terms of South African life?

Other papers might theorize South Africa as metonym, underscoring its various displacements and representation. How do contemporary literature, visual art, and popular culture respond to, deploy or alter South Africa-as-signifier? How does South Africa function in various specific locals or circulate in other national literatures and “global” imaginaries?

Topics might include but are not limited to:

South Africa as global signifier
South Africa and the “Postcolonial Unconscious”
Post-liberation imaginaries
Legacies of liberation
Race and racism post-2012
Governmentality and the law
Infrastructural Time
The Afropolis
olitics of the present
New social movements
South Africa in the U.S./Canadian academy

Interested participants should contact the organisers at or Abstracts will need to be submitted via the ACLA online portal by Sept 23rd.