Gail Super, Punitive Welfare on the Margins of the State: Narratives of Punishment and (In)Justice in Masiphumelele (Ethics@Noon)

Ethics at Noon

Punitive Welfare on the Margins of the State: Narratives of Punishment and (In)Justice in Masiphumelele

While there is an established literature on the relationship between political economy and state punishment, there is less work on how punishment is constituted from below in contexts of inequality. In this talk I analyse the discourse around incidents of lethal collective violence that occurred in 2015 in a former ‘black township’ in South Africa. I use this discourse as a lens for examining how punitive forms of popular justice interact with state punishment. Whether via the slow violence of racialized structural inequality or the viscerally corporeal high rates of interpersonal violence, my interviewees were intimately acquainted with violence. Although they supported long-term imprisonment, and the expulsion of ‘criminals’ from their communities, none of them came across as conservative right-wing populists. Instead, they adopted complex positions, calling for a type of punitive welfarism, which combined harsh solutions to crime with explicit recognition of the importance of dealing with ‘root causes’. I argue that when the state is perceived to be failing to both impose punishment and provide welfare, violence becomes a technology of exchange, which simultaneously seeks both more punishment and more welfare. The result is an assemblage of exclusionary penal forms, many of which stem from and/or overlap with the violence (penal and otherwise), that was deployed by colonial and apartheid rulers as a means to control their racialized subjects.

This is an online event. It will be live streamed on the Centre for Ethics YouTube Channel on Wednesday, September 16. Channel subscribers will receive a notification at the start of the live stream. (For other events in the series, and to subscribe, visit

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Gail Super
University of Toronto

Wed, Sep 16, 2020
12:30 PM - 01:45 PM
Centre for Ethics, University of Toronto
200 Larkin