Academic journal article Critical Arts

Teaching Disruption: Reflections from a Johannesburg Classroom

Academic journal article Critical Arts

Teaching Disruption: Reflections from a Johannesburg Classroom

Article excerpt


This article discusses the author's experience of planning and teaching a course titled 'Cultural Citizenship' to undergraduate students at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg. The course was designed in the anti-capitalist spirit of Naomi Klein's No logo (2001), asking students to think about their socialisation into systems of commodification in global Johannesburg--advertising, mass media, malls, disappearing public spaces--and to begin to identify strategies for disrupting, refusing and resisting the commodity form and the structures of privacy it produces and informs. The course required students to plan and implement a collectively-chosen and collectively-organised piece of direct action in the city as their final class project, and the article discusses two of these projects at length: a protest action against electricity cut-offs in a poor neighbourhood of Johannesburg, and a contestation over public spending on the FIFA Soccer World Cup. The article also addresses the theory of critical pedagogy underpinning the course, and the complexities of anti-capitalist, activist-oriented teaching in university settings.

Keywords: anti-capitalism, commodification, critical pedagogy, Johannesburg, university activism


The seed for teaching a course about disruption was planted some years ago when I read Naomi Klein's No logo (2001). Still a student myself, I thought it important that South African students should have access to the ideas and techniques of anti-globalisation politics that their contemporaries around the world were in the process of creating. It may seem strange that the generations of students coming into university in the wake of formal apartheid should need to be taught techniques of disruptive politics, especially given the importance of young people's involvement in the anti-apartheid struggle. But the end of apartheid, coinciding as it so precisely did with the end of the Cold War, brought with it new and unfamiliar terms of governance that required, and continue to require, different methods of confrontation. The object for dissent and disruption in South Africa is no longer a fascist state apparatus out of sync with the rest of the postcolonial world, but rather a moment of globalised capital in which a post-liberation government claims to have little room for manoeuvre on matters relating to the redistribution of wealth and the undoing of the race/class hierarchies exemplified under apartheid. As such, the complexities of post-liberation political space, as they are interpellated into neoliberal capitalism, require a new imagination about how to formulate dissent, and how and where to organise interruptions of the status quo. The power of Klein's book lies in its capacity to use first-hand accounts of circuits of production and consumption to explain the global dimensions of capital, and to articulate the forms of protest that began to gather momentum against it in the aftermath of the 1999 Battle of Seattle. I recognised in No logo a tool to prompt a revised cultural and political imagination in South African students--an imagination that would give them access to a new kind of critical (global) citizenship after the particular struggle against apartheid.

The other impetus for teaching a course on capital and dissent was the particular disciplinary context in which I found myself. South African Anthropology is still largely premised on questions of local difference and the representation thereof, and South African Anthropology students are rarely exposed in any depth to literature that analyses the relationship between culture and capitalism--a relationship that has been intimate in South Africa since at least the discovery of diamonds, but which is often only obliquely addressed in Anthropology classrooms. There are many ways to discuss the relationship between culture and capital. I wanted to find a method that would lead students into an awareness of the possibilities for active critique, of their own capacity to serve as dissenters in the cultural work of capital. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.