Cover of Reworking Citizenship by Brady G
Reworking Citizenship
Race, Gender, and Kinship in South Africa
Brady G'Sell

August 2024
288 pages.
from $32.00

Hardcover ISBN: 9781503636811
Paperback ISBN: 9781503639171



In scenes eerily reminiscent of the apartheid era, July 2021 saw South Africa's streets filled with angry crowds burning and looting shops. Some, enraged by the state of the nation, aimed to disrupt "business as usual." Others, many of them women of color, frustrated by their poverty and marginalization, crossed broken glass to collect food for hungry children. As one black woman told a reporter, reflecting on the country's transition from the apartheid era: "We didn't get freedom. We only got democracy." Across the world, anxieties abound that wage labor regimes and state-citizen covenants are eroding. What obligations do states have to support their citizens? What meaning does citizenship itself hold?

This book details the broiling discontent around political belonging exposed by these and similar uprisings. Through long-term fieldwork with impoverished black African, Indian, and coloured (mixed race) South African women living in the Point, an urban neighborhood of Durban, South Africa's third largest city, Brady G'Sell highlights how they strive to rework political institutions that effectively exclude them. Blending intimate ethnography with rich historical analysis, her examples reveal the interrelationship between seemingly disconnected domains: citizenship, kinship, and political economy. G'Sell argues that women's kinship-based labor is central to ensuring the survival of modern states and imbues their citizenship with essential content, and through the notion of relational citizenship offers new imaginaries of political belonging.

About the author

Brady G'sell is Assistant Professor of Anthropology and Gender, Women's & Sexuality Studies at the University of Iowa.

"Reworking Citizenship is a brilliant investigation into the relational basis of political belonging. Simultaneously a deep analysis of a particular place(a port neighborhood of Durban, South Africa) as well as a development of theories of citizenship and processes of kinship, G'Sell brings an anthropologist's eye to history and a historian's eye to anthropology."

—Pamela Feldman-Savelsberg, Carleton College

"What G'Sell accomplishes in this book is something that I haven't seen anywhere else. She combines a magisterial command of the thicket of past and present South African laws and policies related to child support with a careful ethnography of women who have been most dependent upon and most disappointed by those systems. This work is extremely important and an absolute pleasure to read."

—Lynn M. Thomas, University of Washington