CUBES & FISH Seminar 21 June 2016 – The Institutionalization of Xenophobia in the contemporary South African State by J. Bouyat and R. Demeestère


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The Institutionalization of Xenophobia in the contemporary South African State

Officials’ practices towards African Immigration in high schools of Johannesburg and police stations of Cape Town


 Jeanne Bouyat (CERI/Sciences Po Paris)

Rodolphe Demeestère (CESSP/ Paris 1 La Sorbonne)


Discussant : Aurélia Ségatti (Honorary Researcher ACMS/ Wits University)

Xenophobia is a much researched topic in South Africa, but has rarely been studied through the daily operation of the South African State. Based on ethnographic and qualitative research methodology, this seminar looks at the practical norms developed by state agents within two of the most emblematic institutions of “the new” South Africa: the post-apartheid high schools and police stations. In a context characterized by rising xenophobic political discourses and ongoing attacks on immigrants, the presentations explore the influence of fragmented immigration policies on the routines and action repertoires developed by the two institutions, focusing on the way their agents navigate, often in inconsistent and contradictory manner, between their institutional agendas and the directives imposed by the Department of Home Affairs (DHA).

The comparison between high schools and police stations highlights a common dynamic of institutionalization of xenophobia within the contemporary South African State, however taking specific differentiated forms. Both officials in schools and in police stations are strongly influenced by xenophobic discourses and ambivalent responses to attacks by top-State structures in their teaching and policing practices, taking the form of criminalization of immigrant and lack of responses to discrimination experienced by immigrants. While the study of police practices reveals a clear reciprocal instrumentation of the DHA policies and directives within the police stations, the DHA has more blurry influence in schools. It appears that principals and teachers have to increasingly comply to the priorities of the DHA, but have more flexibility and independence from the immigration regulations than the police, and can engage in more inclusive practices depending on the localisation and status of the school.

Jeanne Bouyat is a PhD student at the Centre de Recherches Internationales (CERI, Sciences Po Paris) and a visiting scholar at the Centre for Urbanism and the Built Environment Studies (CUBES, Wits University). She did her Master’s dissertation on attitudes towards foreign-ness of high school learners in Johannesburg, and her current research focusses on practices of high school staff towards foreign-ness in popular urban neighbourhoods in South Africa.

Rodolphe Demeestre is a Phd student at the Department of Political Science of the University of Paris 1 La Sorbonne and a visiting scholar at the University of Fort Hare. He did his Master’s dissertation on policing practices towards African immigration in Cape Town, and his current research focusses on street level regulation of spaza shops in informal settlements in South Africa.

They are both members of the NRF funded programme ‘Practices of the State in Urban Governance’ (HSGR 96277), located in the Centre for Urbanism and the Built Environment Studies (CUBES), by the School of Architecture Planning, and Faculty of Engineering and the Built Environment, Wits University.



Tuesday 21 June 2016, 16:00

Conference Room, 62 Juta Street, 1st floor, Braamfontein, Johannesburg


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