Contingency and Uncertainty: Working with and against the state in South Africa

This project asks the question: under what circumstances, with what political resources, and under what kinds of assumptions are women able to make claims on the state to address gender inequalities? Much of the global scholarship on women’s capacity to effect systemic change begins from a premise that institutions can be designed to facilitate women’s ability to impact on the programme and priorities of the state; that is, it focuses on forms of endogenous intervention to draw women – as a relatively marginalized political force – into processes of state decision-making. However, the existing bodies of scholarship, especially the newly-emerging field of feminist institutionalism, tend to downplay both the complicated nature of institutions and the specific forms of agency that may shape relationships between citizens and the state in particular historical contexts. Instead, the focus is largely on institutional design and predictive model-building. My project seeks to bring a proper historical focus to questions of political and policy change. It proposes to take seriously the multiplicity of engagements – not always positive or progressive – between women citizens and the state, and the relationships between projects for social justice broadly conceived (including revolutionary change) and specific forms of advocacy addressed to/through the state.

Project leader(s):
  • Shireen Hassim (University of the Witwatersrand)

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