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Publication Details

Reference
Ruiters, Greg  (2005) Knowing your place: Urban services and new modes of governability in South African cities. Institute for Social and Economic Research (ISER) Rhodes University Paper for Centre for Civil Society Seminar Series: 1-22.

Summary
“The organization of social relations demands mapping so that people know their place…the power to map the world in one way or another is a crucial tool in political struggles” (Harvey 1996, 112).

“The party leaders behave like common sergeant majors, frequently reminding the people of the need for ‘silence in the ranks.’ This party that used to call itself the servant of the people’s will, as soon as the colonial power puts the country into its control, hastens to send the people back to their caves” (Fanon 1968, 183).

1. Placing and hegemonic power
Place is a multi-layered concept. It is used here to refer firstly to a ‘socio-spatial’ structure with material, social, geographic and symbolic bounding. Knowing one’s station, living within one’s means, and one’s standard of living all resonate with knowing ones place in the socio-economic order. Place construction occurs as a material, financial, symbolic, political and social process that involves struggles, defeats and victories both in the world of work and residence. Different socio-geographic areas produce different kinds of labour power and opportunities for social mobility. Symbolic designations attach to certain places as dangerous, inferior, polluted, liberated, ungovernable etc (see Bullard, 1992 for accounts of environmental racism). But “place” as Williams (cited in Harvey 1996, 29) argued, “has been shown to be a crucial element in the bonding process- perhaps more so for the working class”. Place is also crucial especially as a marketable exchange value for middle-class homeowners and property speculators – a source of exclusionary communitarian politics (otherwise called nimbyism).

Keeping different kinds of people in their assigned places and helping them to know their place is a general ambition of states whether neoliberal or welfare capitalist. This is extensively covered in a wide-ranging literature on state-society relations and the historical welfare state systems (Painter, 1995; Gill, 2003; Young, 1994; Scott, 1998). In the post-colonial, post-national liberation context, a key ambition of states has been to become integral states – possessing “perfected hegemonies” (see Young, 1994, 39) and part of this is having people “in place”.

South Africa’s old regime had its own methods for keeping people in place (Group areas, pass laws, separate amenities and prisons); the new South Africa had to develop these. In 1980’s South Africa, despite extreme state violence and militarized townships, people could not be stopped from transgressively being “out of place”. Places like the townships, designed to control the flow of black labour and the unemployed were rendered ungovernable. At this time, the promise of liberation also unleashed euphoric ideas of possible other worlds (such as people’s power and local democratic self-rule).

After the 1994 ‘settlement’, the masses had to be demobilised, deactivated and then their energy redirected and reconstituted in new places and new ways -- a task the ANC is still trying to achieve. It set itself up as a society in transition but the ANC had set itself the goal of being national liberator enjoying massive and active support and loyalty of the people. In this regard, South Africa’s new ruling group has fallen far short of its overstated designs (see the failed Masakhane campaign and the Batho Pele principles). Yet the project of re-organising domination to make it sustainable and yet friendly for capital accumulation -- and the illusory confidence that it can indeed put people in place even as they constantly ‘wriggle out’ and create their own spaces -- continues. Here service delivery continues to play a special role in local, symbolic and national politics, but especially for ‘placing’ various designated groups of people, whether they be inner-city slum dwellers, shack-dwellers or existing township residents.

The consolidation of this process of creating a “popular capitalism” is proving much harder for the ANC, than was anticipated and all sorts of stresses and strains are now showing inside the ANC, in communities and inside the state. Nevertheless, after ten years of experimenting, there is a coherent set of state strategies taking shape for how to rule consensually over different people in an everyday sense. Using the rhetoric of participation, ownership, empowerment and sustainability, service delivery for the state is more than technical exercise. It is also about trying to maintain legitimacy, winning hearts and minds, encadrement and teaching people about new ways of living in a ‘modern market’ society.
The focus in this paper is about hegemonic places as produced state spaces and sites of difference (Harvey 1982; Harvey 1996, 322;) in relation to services like water and electricity. It looks at technologies of social control and the ways the state may seek to construct order, and ‘sustainable’ (read controllable) communities (no doubt often in relation to ‘intransigent’ communities that may disrupt and re-appropriate spatial orderings and controlling technologies).

I focus on urban services since these exemplify many socio-spatial and political processes. Services partly affect these, and there are many other socio-geographic aspects of class reproduction and social control from housing to education and so on that need to be considered. Services are, however, part of the day-day routine (the daily round); they link citizens to the state (especially the local state) or the market depending on whether services are privatised or not. The “how of services” (public or private or quasi-public; citizen entitlement or commodity); at what level of service (basic or full); at what prices are they delivered and their geography are crucial issues. Politically, services are part of the interface of low (everyday politics) and high politics (parties, elections etc) and in South Africa (recall the 1980’s services boycotts) they are highly political. They are supposed to transform people’s lives; bring life and dignity, they carry a heavy symbolic meaning because service delivery makes up a major part of the promise of ANC to liberate “our people”. Services need to be considered as engineered flows/metabolic processes with nature that shape human activity. A modern house without convenient water, and sewerage, one without electricity means hours spent in the daily round on gathering wood, fetching water and disposing of water. The supply of these services by the state can change this pattern. For these reasons the study of service delivery seems important for understanding broader society.

Modern urban water and sanitation are pre-eminently examples of built networks – collective means of transporting water and waste matter, supplied to groups of people in specific geographic locales through long-lasting pipes, pumps etc (pipes may last 50-100 years( Goubert 1986)). As much as they are engineered forces of production, they also have engineering implications for social relations. The levels of supplying these services (basic or intermediate) to discrete places have major social implications over a long term, representing a peculiar kind of bounded institutionalisation or permanence that freezes certain social patterns in place. But more than this, commodified water is also a certain set of internalisations as opposed to only external constraints and power. As Mitchell (1991, xi) explains:

“Power is usually imagined as an exterior restriction…and it operates by setting limits to behaviour, establishing negative prohibitions and laying down channels of proper conduct. Disciplinary power by contrast works not from the outside but from the within…at the level of detail…and not by restricting actions but by producing them. Disciplines work within local domains and institutions. These methods produce the organised power of armies, schools and factories (and) they also produce the modern individual, constructed as an isolated, disciplined, receptive and industrious political subject. Disciplines can break down, offering spaces for manoeuvre and resistance”.

Drawing on Mitchel’s observations, I focus of four interconnected recent ‘modes of governability’ and mappings by the state that bear on the question of standards of living and services. First, I look at the creation of new classes/categories of consumers linked to ‘sustainable’ infrastructure levels. Second, I look at prepaid meters, third at Free Basic Water (FBW) and lastly at tricklers. While this may seem overly microscopic or even technical, and certainly not the normal focus for big politics, I hope to show its relevance for a molecular understanding of new ways to put people in their place. These four political strategies affect material life and culture but attempt to render people governable, i.e. visible. They form part of broader systems of encadrement and patronage by which the ANC attempts to create small privileges at the grassroots be it a seat in a ward committee or a job in a public works program or a rewards and prize for being a nation builder. The crux of this paper is to explore the attempted remaking of disciplined subjects within the complex institutional entanglements of municipal service delivery, marketization and the ANC’s national liberation discourse. Supplying regular services to the poor involves “power effects” such as a range of surveillances, controls, punishments, empowerments and procedures all which have to be more or less continuously monitored at the local level. New statistical reporting requirements reflect these state imperatives. I show that new procedures for municipal services involve re-regulating the poor, new ways of dividing up populations (into can pays, can’t pays and won’t pays) and by new spaces of consumption (defined levels of services for defined populations) and specific modes of consumption for specific areas. Corresponding to the state’s governability effort, the poor try to escape the net of the state, committing their own petty frauds and sometimes, popular illegalities. The focus in this paper is not on the equity/justice debate or the extent of or “efficiency” of service delivery in South Africa (see Bond 2000a and 2000b), but more on the mode of provision and the accompanying political-cultural surveillances and side effects that are intentionally and unintentionally crafted, discovered and produced.

An emphasis on modes of provision and consumption, on political conditionalities and on types of urban social order and disorder ties into the wider problem of state-citizen relationships and governing populations and also suggest new forms for the poor to disengage from the state and new subversive solidarities (Desai 2002; Olukojo 2004).

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