Power playground

Master Thesis


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University of Cape Town

Communities on the Cape Flats of the Western Cape have become synonymous with 'overcrowding, poverty, and squatters' (Pinnock, 2016: 12). Segregation under the apartheid regime forcibly placed Black and Coloured citizens in these areas. These areas have since become eclectic linguistic platforms where many languages form part of the daily liveliness. One of the registers used, is sabela. This is a register born in the prison gangs that has filtered out into the streets, and schools within the surrounding areas. This study, conducted in a school on the Cape Flats, follows the linguistic resources deployed by two Grade 9 boys, as they negotiate their way through different interactions within the informal school setting. The study is based on Linguistic Ethnography (Rampton, 2004), and draws on a view of language as a social practice (Fairclough 1989/ 2001), with particular focus on the contexts (Blommaert, 2005) that inform interactions. The important influence of different discourses in the linguistic marketplace (Bourdieu, 1977) frame the analysis of interactions, and evidence of performativity (Butler, 1990) and footing (Goffman, 1981) are seen as an important factors when investigating abilities to perform particular identities. Hence my research question is: How does sabela function within the linguistic repertoires of two boys in informal spaces at a School on the Western Cape Flats? The data collected consists of audio recordings made over the period of five days, during the two interval sessions of each day, as well as interviews conducted with research participants. The findings showed that the boys had a wide linguistic repertoire that could be strategically deployed. They drew on many different resources from their repertoires with different effects, sabela was drawn on as a signifier of power both in the informal school space and in interactions.