Amsterdam Institute for Social Science Research (AISSR)

Ghetto Chameleons: Surviving Gangs, Violence and Racism in Cape Town

ir/relevance of race seminar with Marie Rosenkrantz Lindegaard

23Apr2018 15:30 - 17:00


In Cape Town, young men of colour try to escape the dangers of crime and poverty in their neighbourhood, by attending school in the more privileged white suburbs and thereby aspire towards social upward mobility.

This escape, however, poses them to different kinds of risks related to gangs, violence and racism. In this talk, I show how the upwardly mobile young men who took part in my longitudinal ethnographic study in Cape Town try to avoid those risks. I argue that they stay safe by changing their ‘colour’ - like chameleons - to adapt to the conditions of their shifting environments. ‘Ghetto chameleons’ perform flexible cultural repertoires, by shifting between Black/Coloured ghetto and White suburb accent, slang, clothes and handshakes. They play with race through their cultural performances, and that enable them to pass as insiders in both places. The practical skill of passing as insider protects them from the dangers of gangs, violence and racism.

About the lecturer

Dr Marie Rosenkrantz Lindegaard is an anthropologist and criminologist, a senior researcher at the Netherlands Institute for the Study of Crime and Law Enforcement (NSCR), and an associate professor in sociology at the University of Copenhagen.

Her work focuses on the social mechanisms behind violent acts and victimization, cultural explanations for crime, and micro-sociological approaches to violence. She studied behaviour in criminal events through the means of ethnographic fieldwork in South Africa, and offender interviews and CCTV camera observations of robberies in the Netherlands. Currently she is doing research on the role of bystanders in violent events that compares bystander behaviour in robberies and street fights recorded by CCTV cameras in South Africa, the Netherlands, United Kingdom and Denmark.

About the seminar series

In this seminar series the relevance and irrelevance of race is being discussed as an object and concept of research in order to explore ways to talk about race without naturalizing differences. The series goes beyond a standard definition of race, one that is allegedly relevant everywhere, and situates race in specific practices of research. In addition the series gives room to the various different versions of race that can be found in the European context and explores when and how populations, religions, and cultures become naturalized and racialized. Scholars from different (inter)disciplinary fields (such as genetics, anthropology, philosophy, cultural studies, history, political sciences, science and technology studies) are invited to address the issue of race through a paper presentation. The seminar is held every six weeks at the University of Amsterdam. Go to webpage seminar series.

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