Let's Talk about Sustainable Peace: An Ethnographic Study into Mnemonic Devices, National Identity and Sustainable Peace in South Africa

Lead Research Organisation: University of Bath
Department Name: Social and Policy Sciences


Whilst widely celebrated for its interventions to redress and remember Apartheid, claims for forgetting have emerged in South African public discourse. Yet, 23 years into democracy, the country's progress continues to be hindered past legacies. Spatially, socially, culturally, economically and racially, the Apartheid legacy remains. Such division compromise Apartheid's place in the national biography, as well as the efficacy of memorials and sites of memory to offer the pedagogical, civic, and social benefits they promise, such as reconciliation, deterring future violence or dignifying survivors. Thus, a clearer picture of if and how practices of Apartheid memorialisation have emolliated (or been thwarted by) continuing social, political, economic and racialised fissures is urgently needed.
A range of literature considers collective memory and national identity in South Africa, particularly on museums, the Rainbow Nation, and the TRC, celebrated as an exemplar. However, theorists of SA rarely make substantial connections between memory and national identity, yet they are mutually implicating; nation building, heavily reliant on such mnemonic devices, reproduces national scaffolds of collective memory across generations, providing inclusions and exclusions in their representations of the past. Hence, this thesis adopts memory as an optic through which to analyse post-conflict identity and contribute to the limited research around the long-term trajectories and robustness of SA's peace, positing that national identity, reconciliation and transitional justice, reliant on the affective practices of memory elicited through mnemonic sites, are not singular events, but lengthy processes that should filter inter-generationally.
This interdisciplinary study will explore the relationship between sites of memory and the pervading social, political and racialised divisions in SA today, exploring the affective dimensions of memory. The project will work collaboratively with several mnemonic sites to map their approaches to representing Apartheid, audience responses, and their role in communities. Such partnership will build stakeholders into the heart of the research, affording site users input in the project. Through its interdisciplinary approach, this research will contribute to memory studies, political conflict resolution, cultural history, transitional justice and heritage studies, and will have relevance for countries emerging from conflict, those which adopted differing approaches post-conflict, such as Rwanda and Lebanon, and the immediate communities surrounding the sites of memory in South Africa.
Core research question: Why is SA national identity so precarious, despite the perceived success of the democratic transition and strong culture of memorialisation, and how does this impact sustainable peace in South Africa? From this, a broader meta-aim will be to establish what the research results suggest about the state of sustainable peace in South Africa today.
1. How, and do, mnemonic devices commemorating Apartheid influence present-day beliefs about SA and the objectives of nation-building?
2. What bearing have SA's transitional justice processes (and the political contexts they inaugurated) had on the way that mnemonic sites/practices are interpreted, accepted or resisted?
3. What affective responses emerge from South Africans' engagement with such commemorative sites?
Ethnography will be conducted at mnemonic sites over 8 months: shadowing staff; observing/participating in mnemonic practices; interviewing visitors. Research will seek to enhance the dissemination of the work of sites of memory, offering a research website enabling participants/institutions to engage with the project, a workshop to include civil society and mnemonic sites in the research design and a post-research seminar to discuss the implementation of a toolkit for tour guides based on research findings.
Overseas fieldwork in South Africa


10 25 50

Studentship Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Student Name
ES/P000630/1 01/10/2017 30/09/2027
2102575 Studentship ES/P000630/1 01/10/2018 30/06/2023 Polly Alexandra Winfield