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Heritage iSites iin iSouth iAfrica: iA iProject ifor ithe
1998 iFulbright-Hays iSeminar iAbroad iProgram

Presented .by iRobert iW. iWilliams i(June i1998)


Dr. Robert Williams,
Division of Social Sciences
Livingstone College
701 West Monroe Street
Salisbury, NC   28144     U.S.A.
Office: Tubman Bldg., Rm. 202

Telephone (O): (704) 638-5614

E-mail: obibob@hotmail.com


Project   Description
In partial completion of the requirements for the 1998 Fulbright-Hays Seminar Abroad Program to South Africa I submit this brief discussion of the project and the basic procedures involved. I propose to study a variety of public monuments--or as they are increasingly being called in South Africa, heritage sites--in terms of their multifarious societal roles as places of commemoration, celebration, catharsis, and reconciliation. Examples of various heritage sites include monuments erected to memorialize historical people and events ranging from the Voortrekkers and the settlement of Cape Town to the prison facilities on Robben Island and the homes of persons prominent in the liberation struggles. They also encompass sites of archaeological and paleontological significance.

Obviously, the trip to South Africa will not allow me to investigate all possible heritage sites, or even to study a representative sample. I believe, nonetheless, that I can photograph enough sites, as well as collect relevant printed and pictorial matter, so that I can highlight both the common themes and the points of divergence among various heritage sites of the apartheid and post-apartheid eras. Consequently, such a project will be more illustrative than exhaustive, more thought provoking than definitive. It will prompt as many questions as it tackles, providing me with a rich source of material to use in classroom lectures and community forums, as well as to ground future research endeavors.

Specifically, the project will focus on how heritage sites "function" (or not) within the social and cultural contexts in which they are located. Such questions to raise include:
Is there a difference between the older, pre-1994 heritage sites and the newer, post-apartheid ones--besides the obvious differences in content (who and what are depicted)? (I hypothesize that more sites will be established to remember the people and events significant in the battles against apartheid.)
Is there a tension between the "official message" of the heritage site and the popular interpretation(s) of it? (For example, a site officially intended to commemorate an event may be viewed by the people in its vicinity in less than positive ways.)
Is there an economic function "performed" by the heritage site? (For instance, has the site been incorporated into the economic relations of the community in the form of tourism or a market place?)
Does the heritage site contribute to the forging of a new national identity for South Africa?
Other issues will no doubt present themselves during the course of the trip and later.

Heritage sites & their uses:
    How an issue is framed makes all the difference. To name something is (at least an attempt) to control how some thing is viewed and understood. Naming is an exertion of power. Such actions and attempts are often contested in a multitude of ways.
    The analysts of such forms of power are many. Karl Marx and Max Weber--two theorists not always mentioned in the same breath--both sought to explain the objective processes by which certain groupings (capitalists for Marx and bureaucrats for Weber) came to dominate societal organizations, and thereby came to predominate in the intellectual activity of those societies. Friedrich Nietzsche, however, hammered the putative neutrality in any quest after objectivity, and in so doing he tried to explicate a way that power is exercised: namely, in the very act of contemplating and analyzing the world. (And even Nietzsche knew that he himself was not immune to that 'will to power'). Later, Michel Foucault studied the micro-physics of power in the modern world--the vast web of interpersonal relationships in which coercion and manipulation of our bodies and thoughts are conducted by all of us, even in our simplest acts of following the status quo.
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Function / functionalism:
    To be avoided is the theoretical 'evil' of functionalism, which holds that a social or political process operates in a manner that supports, or otherwise 'props up' society. Functionalistic explanations of how the political system works often imply some sort of intentional action on the part of a group (cabal, elite, etc.).
    Avoiding functionalism entails specifying the ways in which contradictions, problems, flaws, or even unintentional results occur within the operation of the social/political process under study. In my study of heritage sites I hope to spot their potential 'dysfunctions:' e.g., the ruptures between what the official message says and what people actually think about, or how they actually utilize, the sites.
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General   Procedures
The basic steps to accomplish my project are as follows.
  1. The data-gathering phase will be pursued while in South Africa.
    1. I will photograph, and otherwise obtain pictures of, as many heritage sites and their environs as the trip's itinerary will permit.
    2. I will gather information about the heritage sites from books, periodicals, and informal discussions. (Because the limited time will not necessarily allow for structured interviews, I will make as many contacts with knowledgeable persons as possible--persons to be communicated with later through the postal service and e-mail.)

  2. The analysis phase of the project will delve into various interrelated topics, including:
    1. Artistic Form
      1. Physically describe the heritage site.
      2. What is its style?
      3. What is its aesthetic composition?
      4. Of what is it materially constructed?
    2. Historical Content
      1. How can we "typify" the heritage site's content--i.e, what are its economic, social, cultural, archaeological, paleontological, etc. dimensions?
      2. Who is being commemorated?
      3. What event(s) is/are being commemorated?
      4. How authentic--and by whose interpretation of the facts?--is the site's content?
    3. Political Processes
      1. Which groups (if any) sponsored the heritage site?
      2. What political institutions--local, provincial, and/or national--were used?
      3. Was any opposition at the local, provincial, or national levels manifested before, during, or after completion of the site's memorial?
      4. Did the city, provincial, and/or national governments support or oppose the site?
    4. The Message(s)
      1. What is the official message--the intended purpose and underlying value system--of the heritage site?
      2. How is the site viewed by those living in its vicinity as well as by visitors?
    5. The Geographical Dimension
      1. Location
        1. Where is the heritage site located?
        2. What are the environs of the site?
        3. What are the physical characteristics of the heritage site?
      2. Organization of Space
        1. Does the site and its location create a public space in which all have access?
        2. Does the site create a space conducive to active civic participation or to passive spectacle (or some combination thereof)?
    6. Visitors and Usage
      1. Who visits the heritage site: South Africans (all or only some?), and/or foreign tourists?
      2. Is the site used by South Africans in civic events like political rallies or public memorial ceremonies?
      3. Does the site serve other uses?

  3. The evaluative phase will address several questions, among them:
    1. What are the differences between the apartheid and post-apartheid heritage sites investigated?
    2. Do the sites provide for the functions of commemoration, celebration, catharsis, and reconciliation?
    3. Are such functions accomplished through active participation or passive spectacle?
    4. Are there multiple, even contradictory, messages and perspectives on the heritage site?
    5. Are there varied, maybe conflicting, usages of the site?
    6. Do the physical characteristics and environs of the site correspond to, or otherwise complement, its historical content and official message?
    7. Is there evidence that the heritage sites are furthering the creation of a new national identity--one in which all South Africans can feel a part?

  4. The presentation of findings will be the last phase of the project; therein, I will convey my experiences to college, community, and professional audiences over the course of the academic year and beyond.
    1. I intend to create a slide show to augment class lectures and to enhance presentations in the community.
    2. Also, I plan to elaborate on the material for presentations at professional conferences and perhaps even for publication in academic journals.

END


Last updated: June 25,.1998

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