Dr. Robert Williams,
Division of Social Sciences
701 West Monroe Street
Salisbury, NC 28144 U.S.A.
Office: Tubman Bldg., Rm. 202
Tel. (O): (704) 638-5614
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.
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? (Given the history, will various groups--however defined--incorporate themselves and their cultural places into a broader national identity, or will they seek to "fortify," maybe even isolate, their own sites of cultural identity?)Other issues will no doubt present themselves during the course of the trip and later.
A month-long trip to South Africa obviously 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. Thus, 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.
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/
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