21 Pages

The politics of locality

WithMemories of District Six in Cape Town* Anna Bohlin

While shared conceptions of locality play an important role in the creation of ‘imagined communities’ (Anderson 1983), recent studies show how political contestation lies at the heart of the construction of notions of belonging (Bourquet et al. 1990; Bender 1993; Johnson 1995; Hirsch and O’Hanlon 1995). The physical landscape can be employed as a symbolic resource in the fashioning of a homogenising, nationalist culture, but it may as well be used in the construction of more restricted, and partial, social, ethnic or gendered identities (Bodnar 1994: 75-6; Johnson 1995: 51-3). In discourses about power and its legitimacy, social change and political strategies, the historical meanings ascribed to places are often challenged, negotiated and rejected according to the perceived needs and interests of social groups in the present. The criteria for belonging to territorialised groups tend to change over time, in a process which creates complex and partly overlapping identities.