Factors in the persistence or decline of ethnic group mobilisation: a conceptual review and case study of cultural group responses among Afrikaners in post-apartheid South Africa

Doctoral Thesis


Permanent link to this Item
Journal Title
Link to Journal
Journal ISSN
Volume Title
The candidate has two major linked interests. One is to reconcile competing explanations of ethnicity, and the other is to explore the factors underlying ethnicity in the light of a case study of the rise and decline of ethnic mobilisation among white Afrikaners in South Africa. For many observers the recent apparent "decomposition" of Afrikaner nationalist mobilisation has been surprising, and the factors associated with this trend were expected to contain insights relevant to the theoretical debate. The first part of the thesis is a review of key aspects of literature which offers alternative explanations of ethnic attachments and mobilisation. It commences with a theme-setting example of a reconciliation of alternative viewpoints. At the end of the literature review a series of propositions is offered, suggesting the utility of an integration of alternative perspectives. The case study of Afrikaner ethnic mobilisation commences with a historical overview of the emergence of Afrikaner ethnic nationalism, from the early colonial settlement up to the present. Thereafter a wide range of empirical, survey-based evidence is presented, including exploratory factor analyses, covering patterns in the cultural, racial, socio-economic and political attitudes of Afrikaners, comparing their responses with those of other South Africans. An account of recent political change and the responses of Afrikaners to the events is given. In the final chapter conclusions drawn from the evidence are presented as further propositions in a broader theoretical context. The fragmentation of Afrikaner ethnic nationalism is found to be associated with the bureaucratization of ethnicity during the period of apartheid rule, ambivalence on group boundaries, the usurpation of cultural identity by race, and a breakdown of internal coordination processes which ethnic mobilisation appears to require. At the same time a core of ethnic commitment, substantially independent of its material and political utility, is found to persist, surrounded by a wider compound of racial, cultural and political consciousness. Alternative scenarios of probable future developments are tentatively offered. The analysis appears to support the initial argument that ethnic mobilisation involves full combinations of the processes which competing theories usually pit against one another. The process of ethnic mobilisation involves a variable incorporation of elements of class, group status and honour and political activation, in which identity commitment, co-ordinating agencies and ethnic boundary-construction interact as defining and integrating elements.