Association for Africanist Anthropology
Volunteered - Oral Presentation Session
In this paper, I will provide an account of how modernity was used, reinvented and appropriated in South Africa as a traveling practice and politically negotiated agenda. I will look at what Walter Mignolo termed “the darker side of modernity.” Instead of assuming a top-down travel of Western modernity to "Africa" as a merely timeless, ahistorical background for the unfolding of modernity (Hassan 2010), I will explore what Christina Schwenkel called “lateral potentialities of the project of critical modernity” (2014). This is, for instance, highlighted in the fact that during the late 1940s and early 1950s South African architects drew inspiration from Brazilian modernism (Peters 2004, Barker 2017). Moreover, I will refuse to speak of alternative, multiple modernities, off-moderns, sacred moderns, after-moderns or center-periphery binaries. Rather, I will foreground “lateral modernity” by discussing ethnographic and historical cases of architectural modernism in Cape Town (model townships; circular LeCorbusier-inspired residential towers; postapartheid housing schemes). During apartheid and also post-apartheid, these forms of modernism functioned as an “instrument for change,” “nation-state building,” and with an “aesthetic of erasure,” as James Holston has argued for Brasília (1989), but also as tools of racial segregation (cf. van Graan 2011), monofunctional zoning (cf. Harvey 1990) and with the consequence of the proliferation of unplanned settlements (cf. Elleh 2011).