Shame, envy, impasse and hope: On the psychopolitics of violence in SA

Monday, 11 March, 2019 - 15:00

Presented by : 


In this talk, I argue that the psychoanalytic concepts of shame and envy—when framed at the societal level—are not only among the principal drivers of violence in South Africa, they are also responses to violence in the broadest sense of the term, that is, violence understood as “the manifestation of power that denies people their humanity.” First, I contend that the poor and working classes respond to the shame inflicted on them by structural violence with a scarcely believable interpersonal violence of their own—directed against their own. Second, I argue that the black middle class—the intellectual elite specifically—responds to symbolic violence by means of a reaction formation, an unconscious ressentiment according to Max Scheler’s rendition of that term. Third—following Kojève—I suggest that white South Africans are mired in an existential impasse that blocks efforts at reciprocal recognition, and that they have settled for lives of alienated consumption instead. And finally, I consider the implications of widespread shame, envy and impasse in this land of terrible beauty—as Yeats might have put it—for the cultivation of life-giving hope.


General seminar arrangements

  • The WISH seminar is hosted on-line every Monday afternoon at 16:00 - 17:00 SA during the teaching semester.
  • A printable version of the seminar schedule for the current year is available here.
  • For the details of the Zoom meetings, please sign up for email notices at
  • Participants must read the paper prior to the seminar, which is typically available by the Friday preceding the seminar.
  • The WISH seminar archive is available here