A crisis of representation in the time of pandemic: the reconfiguration of the South African public sphere
South Africa, a country whose economy has been in recession recently, has now been further devastated by the coronavirus pandemic. Due to the rapid decline of the middle classes and increasing poverty, the state has encountered a crisis of representation. This paper will study two initiatives that are reshaping the South African public sphere. One is community self-preservation movements that create capillaries of democratic engagement outside the conventional public sphere and challenge the traditional notion of representation; the other is the self-criticism of the middle class from which a popular politics is generated that inspires intellectuals’ participation in the struggles of the masses. The paper argues that the eventual reconfiguration of the South African public sphere relies on two outcomes: whether a new public sphere can be made out of a revived grassroots cultural network and how this new form can be connected to the conventional public sphere.
KEYWORDS: Reconfiguration; South African; pandemic; community self-preservation movements; black consciousness movement; middle class; grassroots; public sphere
Hui Jiang is a senior research fellow in the School of Foreign Languages at the University of Electronic Science and Technology of China. He is also the director of the Institute of Advanced Research on African Humanities at the same school. He holds a doctoral degree in Comparative Literature from New York University. Since 2014, his family has lived in Johannesburg. His current research interests center on South African literature and politics. This study is part of the research project “A study of South African fiction in the era of political transformation” (project funding code: 19BWW070), sponsored by the National Social Science Fund 2019 (China).