BiographyBorn in Durban, South Africa, I am a graduate of the University of Natal (1990) and Cambridge, United Kingdom (2000). I worked at the University of KwaZulu-Natal from 1995 to 2008, and since then at the University of the Western Cape, in Cape Town. I am also currently a visiting Professor at the University West in Sweden.
Areas of Research / Professional Expertise
After an initial interest in Zulu nationalism and its intersection with party politics, my work has evolved to focus on democracy at the local level. An interest in (i) new participatory institutions naturally led to engagements around (ii) state-society relations, mediation and brokerage, to (iii) popular mobilization, parties and social movements, to (iv) issues of local governance. Given a default focus on the city, these four elements constitute my 'urban politics' research domain.
While my work has almost always engaged with South African cases, it has invariably been related to international debates and projects with a bias including the Citizenship Development Research Centre at IDS, Sussex, and more recently the Participedia project, as well as the southern-led network, Collaboration for Research on Democracy (CORD).
In more recent times I have been challenged to think about urban politics in relation to the decolonial intellectual project, an engagement that while just beginning, already holds great promise both theoretically and empirically. In revisiting western assumptions about key concepts like sovereignty and power, the way is opening for new framings through which to understand urban politics.
Outside I enjoy cooking, wine, music, gardening and some cycling, but most of my time goes into my family.
The limits of participatory democracy and the rise of the informal politics of mediated representation in South Africa
Published: Nov 09, 2018 by Journal of Civil Society
Authors: Laurence Piper & Bettina von LIeres
Subjects: Sociology, Anthropology - Soc Sci
South Africans view formal participatory institutions as ineffective. Conversely, civil society has limited policy impact, and social movements are limited to the larger townships of the major cities. In this context, the tensions between communities, civil society and the state, are increasingly played out in extra-institutional arenas. Marginalised communities rely on informal political practices to access rights and services from the state, or even to keep the state at bay.
By: Laurence Edward Piper
Decolonisation after Democracy addresses the provocative idea that we need to rid higher education of lingering forms of colonial knowledge. This matters because in the colonial era much knowledge was put to the service of subjugating indigenous peoples, and the assumptions from this era may linger into the present. Examples of deep-rooted and ‘foundational’ forms of knowledge that carry colonial traits are normative binaries such as ‘civilised and backward’, ‘modern and traditional’ and ‘rational and superstitious’. In addition, some accounts of positive values like freedom, equality, justice and democracy may hide the assumption that the western experience is the norm, from which other kinds are rendered imitations, deviations or pathologies.
In this collection, some of South Africa’s leading political scientists and academics engage with the challenge of decolonising knowledge in the research and teaching of politics. It includes new insights about the state, international relations, clientelism, statesociety relations and land reform; and introduces new ways to engage the colonial library, curriculum reform, and the marginality of historically black institutions. Finally, the contributors deal with the decolonial challenge posed by the #FeesMustFall student movements, reflecting on issues of revolutionary politics and gender and sexual violence.
This book was originally published as a special issue of Politikon.
By: Laurence Edward Piper
Subjects: Anthropology - Soc Sci, Geography , Sociology, Sociology, Criminology and Criminal Justice
Our new book, Democracy Disconnected is now out in hardcover on the Routledge website.
Why is dissatisfaction with local democracy endemic, despite the
spread of new participatory
institutions? This book argues that a key reason is the limited power of elected local officials,
especially to produce the City. City Hall lacks control over key aspects of city decision- making,
especially under conditions of economic globalisation and rapid urbanisation in the urban South.
Demonstrated through case studies of daily politics in Hout Bay, Democracy Disconnected
shows how Cape Town residents engage local rule. In the absence of democratic control, urban rule
in the Global South becomes a complex and contingent framework of multiple and multilevel forms
of urban governance (FUG) that involve City Hall, but are not directed by it. Bureaucratic governance
coexists alongside market, developmental, and informal forms of governance. This disconnect of
democracy from urban governance segregates people spatially, socially, but also politically. Thus,
while the residents of Hout Bay may live next to each other, they do not live with each other.
This book will be a valuable resource for students on programmes such as Urban Studies,
Political Science, Sociology, Development Studies, and Political Geography.