Cultivating suspicion: an ethnography of corporeal strategies deployed against vulnerability to crime in Observatory, Cape Town

Master Thesis


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University of Cape Town

This ethnographic study explores how people deal with suspicion and navigate the fear of crime in the Observatory suburb of Cape Town, South Africa. The study grapples with the question of how the neighbourhood watch, as a recently revived institution, operates. It analyses the institution and relationships within and around it as an alternative source of trust to the state in combatting crime and its wider impact on lived sociality in the suburb and, perhaps, beyond. The focus of the study lies in understanding the strategies people employ habitually in order to create a sense of security in a context where the anticipation of violence permeates various everyday routines. In analysing strategies of living through insecurities, I focus on examining material and highly visible security measures, such as patrol cars and barbed wires, and engage with the body as a site of social and political memory and struggle, while considering the roles it takes on in the face of perceived precariousness. This dissertation offers an insight in to how the body is deployed as an instrument or buffer to deal with insecurity and crime vulnerability. The quality of public life becomes compromised through embodied strategies of (in)security and vulnerability as employed by the neighbourhood watch. The capacity of a constantly perceived presence of criminal violence in shaping individual and institutional bodies and strategies constitutes the main focus of this study. While the study does not identify the roots of crime as is currently practice with related studies of crime in South Africa, it illuminates the engagement with its perceived presence and thus moves away from a fixed victim-perpetrator dichotomy that has dominated the public discourse.