Skip to content


Bernard Dubbeld

Political Abandonment: Surplus Populations and the Limits of Progressive Democracy

Monday, April 22, 2024, 5:00–6:30pm

Foster 107

Thirty years of democracy in South Africa has seen large scale investments in infrastructures of housing, electricity and welfare, as well as efforts to establish new modes of local democratic participation. While political contestation is common—with the ruling party set to face its most serious challenge yet in 2024 elections— a discourse of political abandonment has also emerged, tying infrastructural failures to more general neglect by the government.

In this paper, Dubbeld will discuss these claims of abandonment, tracing this expression of political discontent to the hinterland where many in a government housing project consider themselves abandoned both by politicians and by the practice of democracy itself, which they consider abstracted from the specific care they require. This paper asks: How might a “progressive” democratic government in Global South treat those rendered a “surplus population” from the perspective of capital accumulation? To what extent should we understand this ostensible neglect as a political decision and what kinds of alternative, progressive, politics emerge? And what counter-political imaginaries arise from claims of “abandonment”?

Bernard Dubbeld is associate professor at the Department of Sociology and Social Anthropology, Stellenbosch University, South Africa.  He is completing a manuscript that considers the future of progressive democracy through an ethnographic account of the effects of post-apartheid governance in the South African countryside. He has written about welfare and the transformation of labour as well as about Marxist scholarship of South Africa. He is editor of the journal Social Dynamics and is on the editorial board of Critical Historical Studies.

This event is free and open to the public, and registration is recommended. Please email us at  if you require any accommodations to enable your full participation.