Materialities of Documentation

Negotiating statehood, rights and services in contemporary urban South Africa

13 November 2017

10.00 – 17.00 – IFAS Conference Room, 62 Juta Street, Braamfontein

Organised by Jeanne Bouyat (SciencesPo Paris / SPUG) & Rodolphe Demeestère (Paris 1/ PSUG)


This workshop brings together multi-disciplinary social sciences research that takes the materiality of documentation as methodological entry points to explore state-making and the tensions of post-apartheid transformations in the contemporary South African urban context.


Using documentation as mediators at the street-level: claiming rights and legitimacy in Cape Town townships

The panel explores documentation as a mediating tool from the recipient’s perspective in accessing services and claiming rights as well as from the producers’ side who can use it to seek and reinforce political legitimacy and public authority. The panelists will scrutinize the role of documents in Cape Town townships where the exercise of political authority is often highly contested and the allegiance to political parties and street-level organizations perceived as a prerequisite for the residents to access a legitimate request.


Crafting policy documents to deliver services: papering over the internal cracks of the state?

The panel looks at the production and circulation of policy documents to deliver services within and at the interface with Johannesburg municipality. It specifically studies practices of officials of the water and the city parks and zoo departments, and how they interact with users and clients. It is discussed how documentation reveals the internal inconsistencies within the municipality and the tensions arising from the broader fragmented institutional setting in which officials operate.

Using identification systems to discipline high schools staff in urban areas: control and transgressions

The panel focuses on the bureaucratic practices of high school staff in Johannesburg and Cape Town. It explores how documentation, and more particularly identification systems inform the daily operating of schools. It analyses the tension between the constraining and controlling dimensions of documentation on teachers, principals and secretaries, and the room for manoeuvre, circumvention and transgression that is left to them at the school level, in urban contexts that are marked by high diversity, mobility, and social challenges.