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LSE literature blog reviews Ties that Bind: Race and the Politics of Friendship in South Africa

Ties that BindTies that Bind is an intriguing and long overdue book about race and friendship. It marks a time worldwide when virtual friendships are fast becoming the norm. And yet, after reading the chapters, one is left with a clearer sense of what it takes – or might take in the future – to actually be friends across race. Sarah Nuttall, author of Entanglement: Literary and Cultural Reflections on Post-apartheid

What does friendship have to do with racial difference, settler colonialism and post-apartheid South Africa? While histories of apartheid and colonialism in South Africa have often focused on the ideologies of segregation and white supremacy, Ties that Bind explores how the intimacies of friendship create vital spaces for practices of power and resistance.

Combining interviews, history, poetry, visual arts, memoir and academic essay, the collection keeps alive the promise of friendship and its possibilities while investigating how affective relations are essential to the social reproduction of power. From the intimacy of personal relationships to the organising ideology of liberal colonial governance, the contributors explore the intersection of race and friendship from a kaleidoscope of viewpoints and scales.

Insisting on a timeline that originates in settler colonialism, Ties that Bind uncovers the implication of anti-Blackness within nonracialism, and powerfully challenges a simple reading of the Mandela moment and the rainbow nation. In the wake of countrywide student protests calling for decolonization of the university, and reignited debates around racial inequality, this timely volume insists that the history of South African politics has always already been about friendship.

Written in an accessible and engaging style, Ties that Bind will interest a wide audience of scholars, students, and activists, as well as general readers curious about contemporary South African debates around race and intimacy.

Mantė Vertelytė and Sarita Fae Jarmack recently reviewed Walsh and Soske’s work for The London School of Economics’ Review of Books:

As an analytical concept, friendship, in contrast to kinship, has taken a marginal position in anthropological and sociological studies, while in philosophical thought it has been a central concern in discussions of the nature of the political order, solidarity as well as human life and relations since the times of Aristotle. Ties That Bind: Race and the Politics of Friendship in South Africa, edited by Shannon Walsh and Jon Soske, therefore marks a notable growing interdisciplinary scholarly interest in the topic of friendship.

The particular Aristotelean notion of friendship inscribed in his quote o philoi oudeis philos (‘O friends, there are no friends’), and later brought up in Jacques Derrida’s writings in The Politics of Friendship, perfectly describes the paradoxical understanding of friendship replicated in this edited volume. In Ties That Bind, friendship appears as a simultaneously inclusionary and exclusionary relationship: it is as material as it is sublime; mundane as it is extraordinary; emotional as it is political. As noted in the introduction:

Friendship can crystallize almost instantly both practices that resist structures of oppression and those that enable them: intimacies and complicities. Perhaps the blurry boundaries of friendship become even more in flux when it crosses the different paths inscribed in bodily power relations and structural inequalities, such as the marked race relations in South Africa given the country’s histories of colonial power and apartheid. As Walsh and Soske state: ‘a history of colonial power in South Africa must therefore incorporate a genealogy of the language and practices of friendship’. Within this context, the ambition of this anthology is to bring friendship to the centre of attention, enabling an explanation as to how dimensions of power are manifested within everyday social relationships. As such, the book’s emphasis is on friendship and ‘difference’, as summarised by the editors: ‘Rather than assume that cultural entanglement necessarily disrupts or diminishes difference, we are interested in the inverse: how intimacies expressed through friendship produce and structure difference’.

To do so, Walsh and Soske, with a history of bridging their scholarly disciplines with visual approaches, bring together methodologically varied work, identifying three main avenues to approach an exploration of friendships within a South African context: namely, ‘structure of settlement’; ‘operations of power’; and ‘critique of solidarity’.

Continue reading here.

Book details

  • Ties that Bind: Race and the Politics of Friendship in South Africa edited by Jon Soske, Shannon Walsh
    EAN: 978-1-86814-968-1
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