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  • Race for Education: gender, white tone and schooling in South Africa by Mark Hunter
  • Crain Soudien (bio)
Mark Hunter (2019) Race for Education: gender, white tone and schooling in South Africa. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

In Race for Education the Canadian-based geographer Mark Hunter inserts into the South African education, sociology, anthropology, linguistics, geography, politics, history and psychology discussion an important new ethnography of the relationship between schools and the social system in which they find themselves. His aim with this book is to develop a better understanding of the relationship between one of the great institutions of modernity, the school, and the human subjects who inhabit and flow through it. The broad approach he takes is to foreground and make an object of scrutiny the feverish tension which the engagement between people and institutions generates – schools with themselves, people with people, schools with people, schools in people and people in schools. Hunter is technically what one might call a social geographer. Social geographers are almost by definition interdisciplinarian. They think of space as a political site which requires understandings of and from multiple perspectives and sense-making strategies.

To understand South Africa properly, a great deal more work such as this is required. It is necessary to understand how the South African society is being formed through the weight of race, class and gender as these take expression though the mediation of space, language and the ever-changing forms of power in people's lives. What Mark Hunter is helping us come to see here is how the emptied-out frames of class, race and gender require, if we are to speak with any degree of helpfulness to each other in explaining power and privilege, and their opposites, constant [End Page 169] refreshing. South Africa in 2019, similar as it might look outwardly to its pasts, and this we must acknowledge, is not the same sociological place it was in 1994, when Mr Mandela convened the country and its people in a process for reimagining itself, or, indeed the place it was in the heady days of 1985 when the sight of a Casspir evoked anger and not fear, or, much less, that racial Disneyland the country was for people who thought of themselves as white in 1961. The issues people and their institutions in which they find themselves now in 2019 may, at a high level, be similar to those they experienced in the past, but their politics are fundamentally different. Work such as Hunter's brings us to understanding this basic empirical reality.

To take us to this contemporary reality Hunter concentrates on the city of Durban, the metropole of eThekwini, and in that vast urban landscape, the suburbs/townships of the Bluff, Berea and Umlazi. He conducted over 500 interviews, collected archival documents, assembled and analysed demographic data on schools and residential areas and simply watched and observed what was going on around him for eight years from 2009 to 2017. This data, it must be said, is extremely useful. Just on page 89 of his book, for example, he tells us the story of the difference between the education and income levels for the residents of the Bluff and those of Berea. He was able to build close relationships with several families in their navigations through the city. We see these navigations in the stories the families shared with Hunter. He introduces us to interesting personalities such as the upwardly mobile Mr Cosgrave who is a social mediator of working-class white the Bluff and upper-class white Berea; the enterprising boundary-crossing Dlamini family and the deeply racially literate Themba who asks Hunter himself difficult questions about the motives for his research. He writes of and about these people with a rare intimacy. Mr Cosgrave is problematic in many ways. Hunter, however, remains respectful of his subjects. He is not judgemental, even when he hears them in Zulu talking in mildly cynical ways about him. He writes easily and lucidly but insistently academically.

The book itself is structured around four periods. Hunter uses these to hold together the thread of his account of how families navigated their way through apartheid and...


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pp. 169-174
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