Race, Memory and the Apartheid Archive: Towards a Psychosocial Praxis

By Naicker, Allengary | Psycho-Analytic Psychotherapy in South Africa, January 1, 2014 | Go to article overview

Race, Memory and the Apartheid Archive: Towards a Psychosocial Praxis


Naicker, Allengary, Psycho-Analytic Psychotherapy in South Africa


Race, Memory and the Apartheid Archive: Towards a Psychosocial Praxis, Edited by Garth Stevens, Norman Duncan and Derek Hook

Palgrave & Johannesburg: Wits University Press, 2013. ISBN 978-1137-26389-6 and ISBN 978-1-86814-755-7

Pathogenic by the very nature of its policy, apartheid as a system sought to dehumanise groups of people based on a toxic and perverted value system of what was morally correct (Bloom, 1996). It used powerful bodies of knowledge like religion, science, education and medicine to justify segregation. Therefore reading a book about race in South Africa can be immensely evocative of one's own personal narrative. It can heighten recollections that have slipped into the recesses of memory, but these are not gone. Rather, while our experiences of race may have shifted, they linger in dialogue, interaction, lost opportunity, unfair practices and so on.

I have found the book Race, Memory and the Apartheid Archive: Towards a Psychosocial Praxis simultaneously easy and difficult to read. On the one hand it enhances my sense of having relatable experiences - as a South African whose own narrative is embedded in some of the interpretations. On the other hand, in my reading of the book as a clinician its complexity traverses many academic spheres.

The book has been divided into four sections or themes; each section begins with an introduction. I have opted to give a synopsis of each chapter, which I hope may distil the publication for readers who may desire a more detailed summary.

Race, Memory and the Apartheid Archive is a collaborative and energetic publication of academic and theoretical insights based on South African experiences of apartheid collected by researchers through confidential interviews and submissions via an internet portal system. Based on the Apartheid Archive Project initiated in 2008 by 22 researchers from South Africa, the United Kingdom, the United States and Australia, it has embraced the concern that we can so easily forget the past and, in doing so, can perpetuate damage to future generations carrying the vestiges of the psychological, social and economic horrors of apartheid.

The editors present their rationale for Race, Memory and the Apartheid Archive from a position of compassion and psychological intervention, hoping to address the paucity of literature in this area. In their introduction they present an almost water-tight argument for employing a psycho-social approach. They describe this approach as inclusive, augmenting the application of several theories and methodologies in order to extend our comprehension of the interface between social and subjective experiences. Moreover, they argue, retelling one's story yields a powerful sense of agency, which was precisely what was denied during apartheid.

Part One focuses on theorising the archive. In his introduction to this section, Leswin Laubscher notes his initial resistance to grouping the different theoretical threads found in this section together . He reflects that his task became easier when confronted almost simultaneously by two experiences of viewing archives in other parts of the world and by a request to offer an account of his own personal ancestry. Confronted with these global and personal memories, he was compelled to see that forgetting is not an option. In light of current racist atrocities Laubscher highlights the urgency in which Stevens, Duncan and Sonn harness psychological and political insight to reengage with the past, in the hope of mitigating its effects on the present and future. Their chapter explores the significance of the power of voice and memory in the way narratives straddle the past and the present. Dialogue about the validity and legitimacy of memory and voice is ongoing but there remains little doubt about the power of subjective experience, accounts of the self and the possibilities of rewriting history. Laubscher, in his own contributed chapter, draws on Derrida's philosophical analysis to engage with a spectral obligation to attend to justice. …

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