South Africa as postcolonial heterotopia: The racialized experience of place and space

Charles Villet


This essay claims that heterotopia is characteristic of post-Apartheid South Africa, i.e. where heterotopia is usually the exception in society, it is the norm in South Africa. This claim reinterprets and expands Foucault’s concept: heterotopia here refers to the racialization of place and space, and hence to otherness and difference as primary. The ubiquity of heterotopia post-Apartheid is evident in the life-worlds of white suburbia and the black township. A case study is undertaken of white suburbia through a series of phenomenological descriptions of contemporary South Africa using heterotopia as a heuristic tool. This study demonstrates how Foucault’s notion of heterotopia is relevant but also too narrow when related to the postcolonial context. An expanded notion of the term as denoting a racialized experience of space and place is necessary for the purposes of coming to terms with the strangeness of post-Apartheid South Africa, where contradiction and otherness are the norm rather than the exception.


Apartheid, Foucault, heterotopia, postcolonialism, South Africa, whiteness

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