The postracial in contemporary conditions is an aspiration but simultaneously a descriptor for a new set of racial arrangements shaped by shifts in the political economy and broader geopolitics. This paper analyses the ways in which such racial arrangements in postapartheid South Africa are refracted, subverted, and reconstructed in interactions by young students in playgrounds on the periphery of Cape Town.
Work within linguistic anthropology and linguistic ethnography has shown that categories such as race, ethnicity, and class are interactional achievements grounded in social contexts and evolving with them (e.g. Alim, Rickford & Ball 2016, Bucholtz 1999, Chun 2011, Hill 1993, Ibrahim 2009, Urciuoli 1996). From this perspective, language and other identities are performed and negotiated in interaction. Influenced by both local contexts and wider ideologies in circulation, interactants align with, contest, or transform social categories of belonging. In these processes, racialised indexicalities and the raciolinguistic orders they construct are reworked. Most South African studies of school integration have focused on historically white schools as sites for engagement with ideologies of whiteness. In the schools studied here, however, the white ‘Other’ is absent from the site, thus relations of domination and subordination tend to be less asymmetrical and ideologies of language, legitimacy, and belonging less fixed.
Drawing on two six-year Linguistic Ethnographies using observations, interviews, and recorded peer interactions, this paper illuminates encounters across difference among multilingual 10-12 year olds in two primary schools. Findings show how dynamic new multilingual practices result in frictions but also new forms of conviviality. They illuminate in particular how youngsters use ‘strategically deployable shifters’ (Urciuoli 2003) to construct new raciolinguistic orders, reworking historical divisions through resignifying racial or ethnic categories and subverting the racialised indexicalities operating in the local social field, albeit not always unproblematically. Findings thus illustrate the potential of such fluid, heteroglossic contexts to inform models of cultural production, contributing to ‘a symbolic enlargement of knowledges, practices and agents’ (Santos 2012, 56) and perhaps contributing to a sociolinguistics of the South.
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