Citizenship, 'xenophobia' and collective mobilization in a South African settlement: the politics of exclusion at the threshold of the state

Research output: Thesis (awarded by external institution)Doctoral Thesis


The thesis develops a layered historical, ethnographic and theoretical analysis of ‘xenophobic' mobilisation and informal residence in South Africa. It explores the role of historically and spatially defined political identities in shaping exclusionary collective mobilization in the informal settlement, countering notions of ‘xenophobia’ as an effect of poverty, racism, elite manipulation, or psychological pathology. It argues that, in a context of stratified citizenship, ‘exclusionary’ mobilization by infra-citizens may be directed toward fuller citizenship and inclusion rather than toward the exclusion of a racial, cultural or ethnic other. Moving from the national to the local scale, and using a combination of archival data, documentary analysis, and ethnographic field research, I demonstrate how the South African squatter camp emerged as a site for the insurgent claiming of citizenship and became a place of anticipated transition to equal citizenship in the years leading up to 1994. A double-embedded case study in the settlement of Mshongo in Atteridgeville, Tshwane, depicts how, post-democracy, this site of transition transformed into a static and apparently permanent ‘threshold space’ neither inside nor outside citizenship. Here, the distinct institutional structures and repertoires of collective mobilization and violence produced by spatial and political inequalities continued to produce a threshold form of (infra-)citizenship, leading to a resurgence of the settlements' traditions of collective action. I argue that individualistic economic and political practices by non-citizen newcomers became vivid transgressions of this tradition, particularly at times of protest where the salience of collective labour and priorities was magnified. Theoretically, the thesis provides an account of local belonging as built on anteriority and political involvement, challenging dominant readings of autochthony. In addition, it explores the relationship between ‘threshold space’ and exclusion so as to illuminate tensions between inclusion and exclusion; agency and ‘bare life’; citizens’ and human rights.
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
  • London School of Economics and Political Science
Award date30 Oct 2015
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2015
Externally publishedYes


  • citizenship
  • xenophobia
  • mobility
  • spatial and political inequalities
  • collective mobilisation
  • Informal settlements


  • Migration, Displacement and Belonging
  • Social Movements and Contentious Politics
  • Peace and Conflict
  • Governance, Leadership and Trust


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