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Durham University

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Publication details for Professor Cheryl McEwan

McEwan, C. (2005). New spaces of citizenship? Rethinking gendered participation and empowerment in South Africa. Political Geography 24(8): 969-991.

Author(s) from Durham


This paper draws on empirical research in South Africa to explore questions about the exclusionary nature of citizenship, the problems and possibilities of participatory citizenship and its potential reconceptualisation through the lens of gender. The paper examines some of the major debates and policies in South Africa around issues of citizenship, participation and gender and explores why the discursive accommodation of gender equity by the South African government is not fully realised in its attempts to construct substantive and participatory citizenship. It explores some of the emergent spaces of radical citizenship that marginalized groups and black women, in particular, are shaping in response. Findings suggest that whilst there are possibilities for creating alternative, more radical citizenship spaces, these can also be problematic and exclusionary. The paper draws on recent feminist writing to examine the possibilities for rethinking citizenship as an ethical, non-instrumental social status, distinct from both political participation and economic independence. This reframing of citizenship moves beyond notions of ‘impasse’ or ‘hollowness’, challenges the public/private distinction that still frames many debates about citizenship and considers the emancipatory potential of gendered subjectivity. The paper argues that citizenship is shaped by differing social, political and cultural contexts and this brings into sharp focus the problematic assumption of the universal applicability of western concepts and theories.


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