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Returning

The screaming of Hadidas, James writing «Melanie, I’m outside», robots, laughter, a Savannah on the stoop, the warmth of the sun, biltong salad, people chatting in a familiar language I don’t understand, «Good morning, how are you», mosquitoes soaring through the air, Peter playing his guitar in the garden, stars shining brightly in the sky, a visit to the doctor, running out of airtime, Read More…

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The Postcards that I’ll never Write

So here it is – boom – the last day of my research stay in South Africa. And I haven’t found the time yet to properly reflect upon and write about my workshop, but I will soon.

However, this was not only a research stay, I spent one year of my life in South Africa, in total. Right now I am sitting on the veranda of the commune that for the past three months formed my basis, my home, looking at a bunch of postcards that I bought a week ago. I know now that I will never send them. What could I possibly write?
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On the Ethical Obligation of ‘Giving Back’

In between my research stay at the Department of Social Development and my upcoming participant observation at a police station in Pretoria Central, I am busy organising my ‘end of fieldwork-workshop’ that will take place at the University of Pretoria on 25 March. The workshop to whom I have invited representatives from a vast number of organizations dealing with domestic violence and counselling in Pretoria, is an attempt to give something back to my field of study and to express gratitude for the time, information and support that I have received throughout my research. The topic of the workshop will be “Working Towards Social Change. Visions and Challenges of Support Services in the Area of Domestic Violence”. Read More…

What’s the Verdict?

You might ask yourself what took me so long to write about the grand finale of the Oscar Pistorius case: Firstly, I was pretty much knocked out by food poisoning last week that I ironically contracted eating at a hospital during a gender based violence training. Secondly, I did not really have any idea what I could possible write about. I felt everything had already been repeated a thousand times over in media: the majority of people apparently are thinking that Pistorius is getting away with murder and that the sentencing had been too moderate. Also, it has been discussed plenty of times whether Judge Masipa’s interpretation of dolus eventualis was accurate. Nothing of this has really sparked my interest, I have to admit. It was only until I recently interviewed the social worker Letlhogonolo* – who is working for an organisation that deals with offenders of domestic violence –  that I found something stimulating to write about. Read More…

The Potential We See

After the last happy-go-lucky post about celebrating Heritage Day at the shelter, today I want to turn to a less cheerful subject. A question that I have often been asked since I have taken up my research on domestic violence and counselling is simple and yet most complicated to answer: Why do women stay with or go back to their abusive partners? Or more general: Why do people stick to relationships that are harmful to them?

I’m afraid, I won’t be able to give a straightforward answer to this question. But I can offer you a story that I am still processing. Read More…

Celebrating Heritage Day at a Women’s Shelter

Every year on September 24th, South Africans celebrate Heritage Day. The public holiday that has its roots in Zulu culture (for more info visit the South African History website) was introduced in 1996 by Nelson Mandela to honour the multifaceted cultures that together form the Rainbow Nation. In order to celebrate and highlight the commonalities that can be found among the cultures despite all their differences, on Heritage Day, it is common for people to have a Braai, the South African Barbecue, that usually stretches over several hours and basically consists of preparing and eating tons of meat.

However, at the shelter, we had a different programme. Read More…

The Narrative Construction of Identity and the Production of the Truth

This post largely stems from a paper that was presented at the conference “Doing Truth”, hosted by the University of Konstanz (11.-13/07/2014).

As I wrote in my last post, the trial against Oscar Pistorius is about assessing whether or not Pistorius acted according to an error in persona. It is not about the action itself – he alleges to have fired the fatal shots – it is about his intentions. He claims that what he did was a terrible accident, meaning he did not intend to shoot his girlfriend. Moreover, he rejects the notion that he wanted to kill whoever, in his opinion, was hiding behind the door. Hence, just like in the auricular confession as described by Alois Hahn (1998) the murder trial is about assessing the true motives and intentions of Pistorius.

The following transcript of the trial illustrates the manner in which the different versions of the events, that are presented at court, come to clash:

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The Implications of an Error in Persona

In my last post I outlined some of the main issues of the Oscar Pistorius trial, focussing on its TV broadcasting and highlighting some ethical considerations. I now want to take the subject further to show the overall relevance of the trial for my project.

When Oscar Pistorius shot his girlfriend on Valentine’s Day 2013, this was short before my first explorative research stay in South Africa. By the time I arrived in Pretoria, the topic was still a hot one and it proved to be a fruitful ice-breaker at the beginning of interviews. Why? From the beginning on, two major exclusive versions of the events existed. One version was pushed forward by the accused himself and later on by his lawyers, claiming that when he shot the person behind the closed bathroom door at his house, Oscar Pistorius thought he was facing an intruder. But this description was soon called into question by media and the public as some elements of the story just seem obscure: Why would the deceased have locked herself into the bathroom in the middle of the night, taking her cellphone with her? The accused stated that at the time he went to the bathroom and shot the assumed intruder, he thought his girlfriend was still lying in bed. Going along with his version, how probable is it he didn’t notice she was not lying next to him? Read More…

A Nation in the Courtroom

“Coming live from Johannesburg, South Africa, the Oscar Pistorius trial channel” When I switch on channel 199 “OPTCB” on my Dstv these days I’m no longer sitting on my sofa at home in Pretoria but I instantly become a witness of the court proceedings in the trial against Oscar Pistorius. In the early hours of […]

Down the Rabbit Hole…

… is the name of the first chapter of one of my all time favourite books, Alice in Wonderland, written by Charles Dodgson – better known under his pseudonym Lewis Carroll – in 1865. It tells the story of young Alice who during a rather boring day in the countryside spots a white rabbit and decides to jump after it and follow it down the rabbit hole. The world she encounters there is a world full of riddles, contradictions and ambiguities – a wonderland, where nothing compares to the world Alice thinks she knows so well. To go„down the rabbit hole“ can therefore refer to the experience of throwing yourself into a world unknown, to begin an adventure. In my case I want to take this analogy further to describe my very own experiences during conducting research in the course of my PhD project in South Africa. Read More…