Civility in Question: Cultural Debates in the Non-European Unity Movement

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Seminar Date
September 14, 2011
This paper engages with a contentious debate, argued mainly between ‘moderates’ and ‘radicals’ in the Western Cape from the late 1930s onwards, over the politics of ‘respectability’, the acquisition of Western cultural capital and the performance of civility in the pursuit of political rights. The debates themselves, instigated mainly by intellectuals and activists in the Workers Party of South Africa, the New Era Fellowship and later the Non-European Unity Movement, speak to the ways in which political dissent takes shape as an argument about culture. In this late colonial, early apartheid moment, the multiple entanglements of culture and politics occur not only in contested styles of political engagement and the objectives of civility but also in theories about the social function of education, the politics of identity and the problem of cultural segregation and exclusion. Of particular interest for both the history of reading and literary criticism in South Africa is the extent to which political questions become drawn into practices of reading and the analysis of texts.
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