Space and spatiality in the colonial discourse of German South West Africa 1884-1915

Doctoral Thesis


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University of Cape Town

The present study sets out to accomplish two things: first, to demonstrate that space and spatiality is the domain in which discourse partakes of the colonial project, and second, to isolate a number of textual strategies employed in the discursive production of colonial space. The first aim requires a lengthy theoretical discussion which occupies the first part of the study. Here I develop the thesis that spatiality as a philosophical preoccupation has never been divorced from the questions of sigmfication and subjectivity, and that the production of significant and subjective space is always a production of social space. In support of this thesis, it is shown that vision and writing are the two functions in which subjective space becomes meaningful, and that in both cases it becomes meaningful only as social space. It is thus in the context of looking and writing that the production of colonial space may be examined as a social space within which meaning and subjectivity are possible. The second aim requires an analytical study of a number of colorual texts, which I undertake in part II of the study. For simplicity, I have confined myself to the colonial discourse of German South West Africa in the period 1884-1915. The central thesis developed here is that discourse develops strategies for enclosing spaces by demarkating borders, privileging certain passages between spaces and blocking others. This organization of space is presented as the ordering of a chaotic multiplicity and, as such, as a process of civilization. The contradiction between the blocking and privileging of passages results in what I call a "ritual of crossing": an implicit set of rules prescribmg the conditions of possibility for crossing the borders it establishes. As a result, in its production of space, the colonial text assumes a mythical function which allows it to transcend the very spaces it produces. It is here that I attempt to situate colonial discourse's claims to uruversal truth. In conclusion, the detailed analysis of the production of space in colonial discourse may be understood as a strategic intervention. It attempts to use the texts of colonisation to counter colonization's claims to universal truth and a civilizing mission.

Bibliography : pages 312-319.