Zachary Levenson

Zachary Levenson's picture
Research Interests: 
urban sociology, social theory, race, sociology of development, ethnography, political sociology, social movements
Office: 
370 Barrows
Curriculum Vitae: 
Profile: 

The South African state has delivered more than 3 million formal houses since the demise of apartheid. In 2010, then Minister of Human Settlements Tokyo Sexwale called the post-apartheid housing delivery program “second only to China” in modern history. Yet despite the apparent inclusiveness of this program, the housing backlog has continued to increase in all major metropolitan areas. Indeed, the same period Sexwale describes saw a ten-fold increase in the number of informal settlements, the gradual peripheralization of these areas, and the introduction of novel forms of socio-spatial containment, most notably temporary relocation areas (TRAs) on the urban fringe. Despite nearly two decades of delivery, the number of those lacking decent housing has remained constant or increased, both absolutely and relatively. How then can an actually functioning, benevolent delivery regime coexist with forced relocations, shack eradication, and the introduction of veritable refugee camps administered by the same municipal state overseeing delivery and allocations? How can a unitary state oversee dispossession and delivery in the same location? 

This paradox is particularly acute in Cape Town, where the persistence and augmentation of apartheid geography is generally accepted in the urban studies literature as the most extreme in the country. My ongoing research explores this paradox through an examination of relocation from informal settlements in Cape Town and the concomitant emergence of peri-urban forms of confinement. Drawing on a year of ethnographic fieldwork in relocation sites across the Cape Flats and extensive interviews with housing officials, I argue that post-apartheid urban relocations must be characterized as dispossession through delivery. Rather than understanding delivery/upgrading and dispossession as antitheses, it is precisely through formal housing allocation that segments of the population are relegated to TRAs. Neighborhood groups that successfully portray themselves as legitimate are defined as “deserving” and gain formal housing, while those outside such groups are defined as “undeserving” and in turn relegated to “alternative accommodation” in TRAs and other novel forms of socio-spatial confinement.

PhD Date:: 
May, 2017
Dissertation Title: 
The Post-Apartheid State: The Politics of Housing in South Africa
Dissertation Committee: 
Michael Burawoy (chair), Dylan Riley, Gillian Hart (Geography), Michael Watts (Geography)