Poverty, possessions and proper living : constructing and contesting propriety in Soweto and Lusaka City

Master Thesis


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University of Cape Town

Recent material culture theory points out how material possessions are woven into the fabric of lives, shaping social relations and texturing people's meanings and interpretation of their world. This study embarks on exploring aspects of this objected fabric, in the context of urban working black South Africans, living in three different township suburbs in Gauteng, in four differing housing circumstances, in the mid-1990s and in the midst of much uncertainty of what the future might hold for poor urban residents. Drawing on participant observation, ethnographic interviews, and household and appliance ownership surveys, the study explores the ways in which domestic objects- appliances specifically - function symbolically for a set of people living in Soweto formal houses, backyard shacks, an informal settlement and in Lusaka City site-and -service settlement on the West Rand, in Gauteng, South Africa. I examine symbolic constructions and creations in these people's homes, gleaning some of the meaning people attributed to particular modes of equipping their homes, and how aspects of their image of themselves and each other were presented, acted out, created, 'conversationed', contested and negotiated through material goods.

Bibliography: 131-137.