Title page for ETD etd-12132011-120648

Document Type Master's Dissertation
Author Steenkamp, Hilke
Email hilke.steenkamp@gmail.com
URN etd-12132011-120648
Document Title The urban underclass and post-authoritarian Johannesburg : train surfing (Soweto style) as an extreme spatial practice
Degree Master of Arts
Department Visual Arts
Advisor Name Title
Prof A A Du Preez Supervisor
  • De Certeau
  • Lefebvre
  • Soja
  • Debord
  • agency
  • Foucault
  • spatial practice
  • de-alienation
  • alienation
  • risk-taking behaviour
  • Johannesburg
  • marginal space
  • hybrid space
  • underclass
  • townships
  • lost generation
  • fatalism
  • spectacle
  • performative theory
  • authoritarian
  • post-authoritarian
  • train surfing
Date 2011-09-08
Availability unrestricted
This dissertation aims to position train surfing as a visual spectacle that is practised by Sowetan train surfers within the context of post-authoritarian Johannesburg. The author argues that train surfing is a visual and spatial phenomenon that is theoretically under-researched. As such, this study aims to decode seven train surfing videos to establish what train surfing looks like, where train surfing occurs and why individuals participate in such a high risk activity. This study, furthermore, aims to frame train surfing as a spectacle by investigating the similarities between train surfing and rites of passage (initiation rites). The author also regards train surfing as a very specific form of storytelling. The narratives conveyed in the seven videos are, therefore, interpreted to establish that train surfing is practised to ‘voice’ fatalistic feelings, societal as well as individual crises.

After establishing the visual aspects of train surfing, the author focuses on the spatial context of train surfing. Johannesburg is described as both an authoritarian and post-authoritarian construct by tracing the spatial and political history of the city. When the discussion turns to the post-authoritarian city, townships and squatter settlements are analysed as being both marginal and hybrid spaces. It is argued that townships are marginal spaces due to their location, they are inhabited by the underclass and they are formed by processes of capitalism and urbanisation, and as a result of these factors, township residents might have fatalistic mindsets (Gulick 1989). The author, however, contends that township space is an ambivalent construct, and as such, it can also be read as hybrid space. Here, hybrid space is interpreted as a platform from which township residents can resist oppressing spatial and political ideologies. In this context, train surfing is regarded as one way in which train surfers use hybrid space to express tactics of resistance.

After establishing the spatial context of train surfing, the socio-economic and material living conditions of train surfers are investigated. The discussion firstly, explores the underclass, as theorised by Jencks and Peterson (1990), and thereafter highlights why train surfers can be classified as being part of this sub-category. It is, furthermore, argued that Sowetan train surfers are part of a new lost generation due to high unemployment rates, the HIV/AIDS pandemic and bleak future outlooks. The author aims to establish that, as a result of their socio-economic status and material living conditions, train surfers are fatalistic, and practice an extreme activity to exert control over one area of their lives, namely their bodies.

Lastly, the dissertation aims to explore train surfing as being both a risk-taking activity and a new spatial practice. The dynamics of adolescent risk-taking behaviour is explored by emphasising the psychological motivations behind high risk activities. The author argues that alienating space can be regarded as an additional factor that usher adolescents into risk-taking activities. As such, the place(s) and space(s) inhabited by train surfers, namely Johannesburg, Soweto and township train stations, are discussed as alienating spaces. Moreover, it is argued that alienating spaces create opportunities for resistance (following the power-resistance dialectic inherent to space), and as such, train surfing is interpreted as a de-alienating spatial practice that enables the marginalised train surfer to exert control over his surroundings.

© 2011, University of Pretoria. All rights reserved. The copyright in this work vests in the University of Pretoria. No part of this work may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, without the prior written permission of the University of Pretoria.

Please cite as follows:

Steenkamp, H 2011, The urban underclass and post-authoritarian Johannesburg : train surfing (Soweto style) as an extreme spatial practice, MA dissertation, University of Pretoria, Pretoria, viewed yymmdd < http://upetd.up.ac.za/thesis/available/etd-12132011-120648 / >


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