Disclaimer: The ideas presented in each post reflect the opinions of the writer alone, not those of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, nor of the European Research Council.

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“Apartheid—The Global Itinerary”: The Journey Ends.

December 27, 2019

As our research project draws to a close, I thought I would revisit some of its founding assumptions and reflect on its findings and consequences. In my blog entry on this platform (December 2016), I wrote of how I came to the conclusion that: “Apartheid moved things.” Indeed, the conceptual foundations of the research project that emerged there were bound up with displacement—my own voluntary displacement from apartheid South Africa certainly, but much more significantly, the myriad forms of exile, internal banishment and migration associated with the apartheid regime. Taking the South African government’s exiling of political activists, intellectuals, writers, photographers, and musicians as one point of departure, the project tracked the outward trajectories of South African cultural agents and cultural formations beyond the borders of that country in order to investigate how apartheid functioned as a catalyst for transnational cultural production. 


Against accounts of South Africa’s isolationism, we have shown how the activities of exiled cultural agents together with the circulation of expressive culture across a wide range of media fueled the debate on apartheid in the international public sphere. The notion of the “restlessness of apartheid” (Louise Bethlehem 2018) provides conceptual shorthand for these claims concerning the global itineraries of dissident South African expressive culture and furnishes the methodological basis for the intervention as a whole. At their multiple points of diffusion in the global arena, works of expressive culture protesting apartheid were themselves enfolded within situated local narratives and imprinted with local political conflicts. What, we asked, were the consequences of this circulation for the struggle against racism in a historical period dominated by the Cold War and decolonization? How was apartheid used to frame other conflicts over race and racial inequality?




Through charting the circulation of apartheid-era cultural formations, we have generated innovative perspectives on the history of societies other than South Africa, allowing for the better integration of South African cultural history into scholarly accounts of the Cold War and of decolonization. Our findings encompass a highly diverse range of geopolitical contexts whether in the liberal West (Britain, France, the United States of America), the Soviet Union, socialist Hungary and Cuba, the Middle East (Israel, Palestine), and decolonizing Africa (Algeria, Ghana, Guinea, Nigeria, Zaire), uniting these analyses within a single analytical framework. Combining fine-grained reconstructions of the cultural agency of exiled anti-apartheid figures with the close analysis of cultural works in circulation, we have restored neglected arenas to view in the struggle against apartheid—whether within or beyond Western settings. 


In accordance with the formative hypotheses of the project, we have shown how political analogy becomes diffused and thickens through the circulation of expressive culture, thus consolidating broader political imaginaries. We have explored these processes in relation to the Cold War constitution of liberalism and communism, and, importantly, in relation to the understudied domains of African socialism, Afro-Asian solidarity, diasporic pan-Africanism and tricontinentalism. Here we have gone beyond the initial focus of the project framed in terms of the histories of nation states to look at transnational solidarity movements. From this perspective, we have been able to uncover early precedents for what contemporary theory recognizes under the construct “Afropolitanism” through investigating forms of continental pan-Africanism that did not take race as their basic unit. As a collective, we have expanded the understanding of what might constitute legitimate archives for exploring political imaginaries in relation to apartheid. Our use of non-traditional archival sources promises to provide new research agendas for future scholarship. 




The project draws on and extends the capacity of cultural studies to accelerate interdisciplinary scholarship in the humanities and social sciences. It is remarkable not so much for the consistent employment of interdisciplinary methodologies as is the case in much contemporary research in cultural studies but for the facility with which the founding hypotheses of the research proposal have generated innovative findings in fields not usually in dialogue with one another. The research project has drawn the cultural, literary, music, visual and political history of apartheid into sustained juxtaposition with fields as diverse as international law (Giladi forthcoming), diplomatic history (Giladi 2017), church history (Zalmanovich 2019), history of ideas and sociology of intellectuals (Sela submitted, Salem in preparation), history of decolonisation (Hashachar 2017, Levi 2017, Bethlehem 2018, Salem, in preparation), history of social and solidarity movements (Baer 2016, Sela submitted), architectural history (Levin, 2016), urban planning (Levin 2017), carceral studies (Talve Goodman 2019), Holocaust studies (Bethlehem 2019, Mikel Arieli 2019, Mikel Arieli PhD dissertation, Mikel Arieli submitted), law and literature (Bethlehem 2019), communications and television studies (Zalmanovich 2018 “Screening Solidarity”), jazz history (Bethlehem 2017, 2018, Hashachar MA thesis, 2017), Soviet studies (Zalmanovich 2018 “From Socialist Budapest,” Povzner, Barnai and Bethlehem, in preparation), pan-African and black diaspora studies (Bethlehem 2018, Hashachar 2018, Levi 2018, Erez 2019, Hashachar submitted, Salem in preparation), poetry and political exile (Berkman, two articles submitted), and the history of literary prizes (Berkman, submitted).


In accordance with one of the stated objectives of the project, namely to trace discourses on apartheid in Hebrew, a considerable body of work intersects the field of Israel studies dealing variously with the so-called apartheid analogy (Baer 2016, Bethlehem 2018, Fischer submitted); Israeli policy (Giladi 2017, Mikel Arieli submitted); the reception of South African literature in Israel (Tal and Bethlehem submitted); and blackness in relation to the musical field in Israel (Ben-Sadia MA thesis).


Publications and Research Impact

As Principal Investigator of the Project, I directed an international cohort of researchers including literary scholars, cultural theorists, visual culture scholars, musicologists, and historians who together created the rich interdisciplinary dialogue fundamental to a project of this magnitude. During the course of the project, team members made 80 conference appearances in local and international settings. Between 2-5 April 2017, we organized a major international workshop at the Wits Institute for Social and Economic Research (WiSER) directed by Professor Sarah Nuttall, who served as a member of the international advisory board of the project. The conference involved a three-way collaboration between the project, WiSER and the prestigious "World Literatures: Cosmopolitan and Vernacular Dynamics” Research Programme, based at Stockholm University with the support of The Swedish Foundation for Humanities and Social Sciences, under the direction of another member of our international advisory board, Professor Stefan Helgesson. Twenty-five leading scholars participated in a truly transnational conversation devoted to the dynamics of cultural circulation in relation to South Africa and in relation to anticolonial struggle that stood at the core of our shared concerns. Two special issues of the journal Safundi 19(3) and 20(2) that I co-edited with Swedish and South African partners resulted from this gathering. 


Our second international conference took the form of a collaboration between the project, “The Perception of Apartheid in Western Europe 1960-1990” Research Cluster (a Danish-German collaboration headed by Professor Detlef Siegfried, Copenhagen and Professor Knud Andresen, Hamburg), together with the Centre of African Studies of the University of Copenhagen headed by Professor Amanda Hammer. It was hosted at the University of Copenhagen between 29-31 October 2018. The orientation of this workshop was highly interdisciplinary, focusing on celebrities and celebrity culture in the antiapartheid struggle, as well as on celebrity culture in relation to solidarity with, or within, Africa, more generally. This innovative methodological turn, the initiative of postdoctoral fellow, Dr. Tal Zalmanovich, forms the basis of a special issue of Critical Arts co-edited by Tal and I, currently under review.  


 The project has had a major impact on the local research environment, particularly with respect to African Studies in Israel. We co-organized two conferences for emerging scholars in African Studies, and team members participated extensively in their various panels. We played an active role in the organization and deliberations of an additional international conference in African Studies titled “The Momentous Sixties: Reflections on an African Decade” held at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem and Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, 6-8 January 2019, as a collaboration between ourselves, The Truman Institute for the Advancement of Peace at The Hebrew University, The Tamar Golan Africa Center, Ben-Gurion University and the Center for Area Studies at the University of Leipzig. 


With the Program in Cultural Studies at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, from which many of our researchers were drawn, we co-hosted two seminars and an international symposium: “Cultural Studies Symposium: Perspectives on 1968.” Seeing members of my research team actively modelling for their peers how graduate students might proceed to develop profiles as emergent researchers in their own right has been an exciting and moving dimension of my work. 


Across the many international conference appearances of its researchers, the project served as an important node connecting researchers in the global North with the emerging collective of Africanists in Israel and in the global South more broadly. No less importantly, the project has fostered South-South developments as a matter of theoretical and public intellectual commitment. The project has thus aligned itself with calls to “decolonize” the university and to reevaluate curricula that have become increasingly important in contemporary debates in the social arena.  


I am proud of our team’s output of twenty peer-reviewed articles published or accepted in leading academic journals to date, including Social Text, Interventions, Critical Arts, Social Dynamics, African Identities and The English Historical Review. Four M.A. theses and one Ph.D. dissertation have emerged from the project so far, with two additional dissertations still in progress. 


Keep following our website for news of our forthcoming special edition, as well as many additional research articles and book chapters currently under review. 


The public outreach component of the project sustained on this blog and other venues has been hugely gratifying. Team members contributed short articles to the online public intellectual forum, The Conversation Africa, reaching over 11,500 readers in that venue alone. Through public lectures, opinion pieces, blog entries, and podcasts, we reached an estimated audience of 40,000 people in the global public sphere.



The project, “Apartheid—The Global Itinerary: South African Cultural Formations in Transnational Circulation, 1948-1990,” has involved us all in an extraordinary set of intellectual journeys. As Principal Investigator, I would like to record my deep indebtedness to my research team; my talented administrator, Maya Roudner; the members of my international advisory board, Professor Ariella Azoulay, Professor Rita Barnard, Professor Regenia Gagnier, Professor Stefan Helgesson, Professor Isabel Hofmeyr, and Professor Sarah Nuttall; the Faculty of Humanities and the Authority for Research and Development at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and most importantly of all, The European Research Council who so generously funded the project. 


The bleak resurgence of racism in the present political moment serves as an ongoing reminder of the need to use the historical record to help us imagine new alliances in the face of the threat that racism poses to our shared humanity. “Apartheid—The Global Imaginary” has grown out of, and continues to be directed towards, that challenge. 




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