Making and remaking of social orders
- Daily Maverick
Renowned sociologist Karl von Holdt on violence, politics and power.
In between optimism and pessimism about the state and fate of South Africa is a more useful middle space in which to face the realities of the moment and to reckon with the reality that “what happens next” could go either way.
Sociologist and Wits University professor Karl von Holdt, in his inaugural lecture this month, pulled a personal thread through his 30-odd years of prominent scholarship, political engagement and activism to arrive at a call for a shake-up.
“If the world is continuously being made and unmade … a place of disorder, confusion and confrontation, then we need to rethink categories and concepts, destabilise them and remake them so that they are adequate to the task of understanding this kind of world,” he said.
Understanding comes from acknowledging that “contradictory logics” have function, including that even in a democracy, violence and forms of violence stand in for statement, remedy and recourse. There also needs to be recognition that “the game” has changed. There are new rules and multiple rules to learn for all South Africans, and more blind spots to be aware of because they pull people apart.
“The chattering classes are talking in a kind of time bubble of their own manufacture that is out of touch of what is actually happening … We have to find new ways to understand other people’s values and rules,” he said.
Von Holdt is the former director of the Society, Work and Politics Institute (Swop) at Wits University, a former National Planning Commission commissioner and a former editor of the Labour Bulletin. In his lecture, he focused on his work on violence, politics and power and their complex intertwining in the making and remaking of social orders.