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The Ethnic Conflict Research Digest

2000, Vol. 3 No. 2 .

Hegemony and Resistance: Contesting Identities in South Africa
Thiven Reddy

Aldershot: Ashgate, 2000
264pp. Biblio. Hb.: 39.95; ISBN 0-7546-1205-8.

Hegemony and Resistence explores two dimensions of South African identities. Abstractly, Reddy engages with social theorists such as Derrida and Foucault to explore discursive hegemony (and to a lesser extent resistance) in South African historiography. More concretely, he illustrates some of the discursive practices of discrimination and apartheid. This historical reinterpretation begins with European exploration and covers up until the 1980s.

Reddy's analysis teases the reader with the potential for systematic rethinking of the discursive basis of apartheid power but fails to deliver. By trying to cover both a critique of historiography and a new historical reading, Reddy never clearly identifies the relationship between the two. For example, does this book seek to overturn class-based analysis of apartheid, or does Reddy see the discursive construction of class-based identity as a complement to marxist approaches? Perhaps he is less concerned with explaining South African social history than with using South African examples to illustrate the insights of his theoretical perspectives. Either is a laudable goal, but he leaves us with a book that does neither convincingly.

Particularly if Reddy seeks to enhance our understanding of identities in South Africa, the argument would be strengthened by more systematic historical work. His overview of colonialism, for example, would benefit from more detailed analyses of sailor narratives, court documents, and missionary reports -- sources that he occasionally mentions in illustrative fashion. We would understand segregation and apartheid better if Reddy looked directly at labor legislation, land policies, and commission reports, rather than relying almost exclusively on secondary materials. The power of discourse would come through more clearly if he linked explicitly the ways in which categorizations of race, ethnicity and class (and tensions between them) translated into the institutions of apartheid, such as the form of the state apparatus and the consequent demarcation of space through labor and work regulations (for example).

Last but not least, Reddy would make a stronger case by integrating an analysis of discursive responses to hegemony into each of these chapters, rather than leaving resistance to the end. In retrospect, based on this book, we should indeed be shocked by the 1994 transition, because we haven't been offered analytical tools to explain the overthrow of discursive hegemony -- or perhaps its persistence in the post-apartheid era. That indeed would be a provocative work.

Audie Klotz, University of Illinois at Chicago

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