Zachary Levenson (2007)

I am an Assistant Professor of Sociology at the University of North Carolina, Greensboro.

I study the political struggles of populations who are marginalized, racialized, un(der)employed, or in a word, surplus to capitalist societies in the global South. When residents are excluded from participating in formal political and economic life, what alternative strategies are at their disposal? My current research examines this question in relation to struggles for land and housing in post-apartheid South African cities. I am working on a book manuscript about how mass land occupations in Cape Town challenge the way we think about displacement and dispossession in urban sociology. More broadly, I am interested in how and why governments manage surplus populations; how race, class, and ethnicity are inextricably intertwined in how we think about being “surplus”; and how these two questions force us to rethink what we mean when we refer to a thing called “the state.”

A second body of work addresses the consequences of South Africa’s post-apartheid housing program, which has unintentionally rendered apartheid’s racialized geography permanent. Unable to wait any longer for decent homes, residents make demands for immediate inclusion, fundamentally transforming the nature of the welfare state in the process. I have studied these demands ethnographically both through formal institutional channels and in the form of a citywide social movement engaging in sustained direct action. This research demonstrates that the policy effects of urban struggles extend beyond the legal terrain analyzed in my book manuscript.

My writing has appeared in Urban StudiesInternational SociologyContextsCatalyst, an edited
volume in the Mobilization book series, and elsewhere.


Dissertation Title
Representation and Recognition: The Politics of Housing in South Africa