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Participation, neoliberal control and the voice of street traders in Cape Town – a Foucauldian perspective on ‘invited spaces’

Abstract : Although community participation is often presented as a process meant to empower the poor, it is largely admitted that the urban elites who enjoy a better social and economic capital often dominate these political arenas. The inconsistencies and flaws in participation processes have been emphasised in many contexts, including South Africa. However, the poor are not only excluded from participation. They may be excluded through participation when they are associated to participatory processes tailored to disempower them. Beyond tokenism, window dressing strategies or dysfunctional processes, participation might be worked out as an exercise of power through which selective partnerships are co-opted and political expression constrained and framed. Cornwall (2002 and 2004) has theorized this by referring to ‘invited spaces’ of participation. Embracing this perspective, I argue that the participatory processes that took place around street trading in central Cape Town in the late 2000s contributed to shape an apparent consensus that was detrimental to the traders. I approach participation from the perspective of a geography of power that draws from Foucault’s writings on biopolitics and neoliberal governmentality (the ‘government of mentalities’) that envision neoliberalism as an encompassing rationality based on entrepreneurialism that frames our conduits. I argue that participation is one of the many vehicles of this rationality and that it needs to be scrutinised as such. To engage in this research agenda, I resort to a case study, i.e. the Greenmarket Square. It is a major public square that hosts a permanent market in Cape Town CBD and that was partly displaced and downsized in anticipation of the 2010 FIFA World Cup.
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Contributor : Marianne Morange <>
Submitted on : Wednesday, February 15, 2017 - 12:43:04 PM
Last modification on : Tuesday, June 23, 2020 - 8:52:02 AM


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Marianne Morange. Participation, neoliberal control and the voice of street traders in Cape Town – a Foucauldian perspective on ‘invited spaces’. Claire Bénit-Gbaffou. Popular Politics in South African cities. Unpacking community participation, HSRC Press, 2015, 978-0-7969-2464-3 version papier. ⟨hal-01468321⟩



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