Introduction : Private lives and public cultures in South Africa

Publication Type:

Journal Article


Cultural Studies, Volume 27, p.307–332 (2013)



This introductory essay considers how we might forge a critical language to discuss an emerging constellation of cultural production in South Africa: that which focuses on the work of ‘intimate exposure’ in order to shape a public–private sphere, which in turn forges forms of citizenship unavailable, or submerged by, a history of segregation. We ask the two following questions in order to better understand the dynamics of desegregation and re-racialization in twenty-first century South Africa: what is at stake in the dynamics of private exposure, particularly, but not limited to, the work of contemporary artists, be it exposure of the self or exposure of the lives of others – out of aggression or tenderness, as a gesture of ordinariness or excess, in relation to strangeness or love? Moreover, how do new dramas of secrecy, confession and exposure map onto or circumvent the staging of these issues during the apartheid years, which, itself layering over the scars of the colonial period, provide the subterranean foundation across which recent events play out? Addressing these and other questions takes us through a series of debates animating the current global and South African cultural studies.

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