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The Pietermaritzburg Community Arts Project : using culture as a weapon for self-empowerment and mobilisation.

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This thesis documents and presents a critical study of an adversary tradition of culture in South Africa. Through a detailed study of the Pietermaritzburq Community Arts Project, analysing cultural activities developed in opposition to established forms, themes and techniques, the writer documents the growth and development of a concept of popular culture which posits conscious cultural challenges to white hegemony as well as the conventional notion of bourgeois culture of, for example, "going to the theataah." (Tomaselli, 1987 :2) In addition, this thesis explores the potential of culture as a weapon in the liberation struggle in South Africa, in terms of mobilising and conscientising people. Chapter One focuses on the theoretical framework, rationalising salient features of contemporary materialist critical theory. The chapter goes on to posit a critical strategy which analyses the discourses of culture in relation to ideology. Chapter Two tackles the problem of 'cultural hegemony,' using the Gramscian concept of hegemony, where the ruling classes are able to induce the masses to consent to their subordination. Chapter Two is also a discussion of the much contested question of a "working class culture". We have seen, for example, that opera and poetry as specific facets of culture have often been dismissed as a ruling class indulgence (German, 1991 :12). Yet the relationship between culture and class is rather complex. Nor is it one that socialists can afford to ignore. Questions of culture have often been central to revolutionary politics. Hence Chapter Two will explore the Marxist tradition in attempting to ascertain whether there is such a thing as a specific working class culture. In particular, the ideas and writings of Leon Trotsky will be heavily drawn upon when debating the question. Chapter Three provides an historical overview of the Pietermaritzburg Community Arts Project, and explicates the modus operandi of the project. A brief consideration is also provided of two other cultural projects that have been singled out for mention as they are of particular significance to this study. This chapter also provides an analysis of the actual study conducted. Here the methodology, findings and results will be discussed. Finally, Chapter Four summarises the preceding sections and attempt to arrive at certain conclusions. This thesis attempts to contribute to the advancement of cultural studies in South Africa by focusing on a particular cultural project that is currently in operation in Pietermaritzburg. This thesis also shows that historians, social scientists as well as political activists can benefit by supplementing their work with some knowledge of the manner in which culture is linked both to social consciousness and strategies of resistance in a country where normal channels of communication have long been suppressed.


Thesis (M.Soc.Sci.)-University of Natal, Durban, 1993.


Popular culture--Pietermaritzburg., Working class--Pietermaritzburg--Political activity., Community theatre--Pietermaritzburg., Arts--Pietermaritzburg., Pietermaritzburg--Social conditions., Pietermaritzburg--Social life and customs., Theses--Sociology., Pietermaritzburg Community Arts Project.