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Grey Space: a return journey to Johannesburg

Part 2 Dissertation 2005
Jessica Sinclair
University of Sheffield, UK
This dissertation charts the course of my return journey to Johannesburg. Previous generations of my family had made the journey to South Africa to exploit the opportunities of a British colony. As a student in architecture, I hoped to be removed from the power dynamic between the West and Africa; however, I discovered that my approach to the city was determined by my identity as a white, British, South African woman.

I returned to the central suburb of Yeoville, in which I grew up, to see how unilaterally constructed my experience of home was. By walking through the neighbourhood I tried to identify how the modes of inhabiting space have changed since the abolition of Apartheid.

The structure of this dissertation follows the stages of a journey, beginning with my preconceptions before leaving, the ideas which I will take with me as luggage, the tools I will need on the journey and finally, my experience in Johannesburg, will be recorded in the form of a travel journal.

The travel journal runs in a grey strip across the dissertation chapters. The grey strip is a reference to Yeoville’s label in the 1980s as a ‘grey area,’ It is a metonymy which explores the boundary between ‘white’ and ‘black’ space, resisting a simple definition. ‘Grey space’ is my problematic ‘homeplace’, my interpretation of Lefebvre and Soja’s ‘Thirdspace,’ Bradotti’s ‘feminist nomadism,’ Rogoff’s theory of ‘without’ and hook’s ‘margin of radical openness.’ The grey strip is pieced together from memories, stories and recent experiences in South Africa and Britain. It is an uncertain space which is constantly shifting and can only be reached by letting go of the singular, monocrome and static idea of ‘home.’

Jessica Sinclair

This dissertation is a critical exploration of the post-apartheid space, mapping relationships between spatial, gender and colour politics. It draws upon the metonymic power of a ‘return journey’ to create knowledge dynamics and mediate encounters between a ‘nomadic’ feminist subject in search of multiple identities and a contemporary South African city.

Taking feminist, post-colonial, Marxist and post-modern social theories as ‘luggage’ and walking and photography as ‘tools’, the author travels into the ‘grey spaces’ of resistance which belong to both memory and the everyday. This ‘return journey’ brings back a refreshing (re)vision of the dualities and oppositions embedded in the post-apartheid condition.

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