Human Agency. Asymmetrical Relations and Sociocultural Systems: Itinerancy and Sedentarism in the Great Karoo of South Africa

By:
Prof. Mike De Jongh
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Through an examination of the human situation and context of an itinerant community in the arid Karoo region of South Africa, the reciprocal interaction between human agency or praxis and sociocultural system or structure is explored. A system whose forces were, and are, largely beyond their control, committed these sheep-shearing Karretjie People to their particular lifestyle and to an asymmetrical relationship with the wider community. Their primary resource base is in the clientele beyond their own community and their capital is largely vested in and maintained through their specialised skill and the service that they render to land owning sheep farmers.

As a 'floating' group of specialists they are both integral and peripheral to the wider community and hence they occupy and exploit a distinct socioeconomic niche which places a premium on spatial mobility and high degrees of structural flexibility and organisational fluidity. Given their situation of inequality, their choices and strategising are often intended not only to direct their own particular patterns of behaviour, but also to challenge the prescriptions of the rules, norms and beliefs of the wider community. The core concept here is thus the interdependence of human agency and structure, and the focus is on the experience and performance of people, also on conventional behaviour, but from a reflexive position.


Keywords: Human agency, Asymmetrical relations, Sociocultural systems, Itinerancy and sedentarism, Karretjie people, Karoo South Africa, Structural flexibility and organisational fluidity
Stream: Ethnicity, Difference, Identity
Presentation Type: Paper Presentation in English
Paper: Human Agency, Asymmetrical Relations and Sociocultural Systems


Prof. Mike De Jongh

Professor and Chair of Department, Department of Anthropology and Archaeology, University of South Africa
South Africa

Michael de Jongh is Professor of Anthropology and Chair of the Department of Anthropology and Archaeology, University of South Africa. He is also past President of Anthropology Southern African and consulting editor for three journals. He has published widely in the fields of ethnicity, urbanisation, traditional leadership, local government, methodology and human mobility. His current interest is in minority group autochthony and identity, particularly the Buysdorp community and the Griqua people in South Africa. Publications stemming from his work include: 'Itinerancy as a way of life: the nomadic sheep-shearers of the South African Karoo' (Developmental Southern Africa, 1994); 'Mozambican Refugee Resettlement: a study of strategies for survival of involuntary immigrants in South Africa' (Journal of Refugee Studies, 1994); 'Methodology on the move: studying itinerants and their children (nomadic Peoples, 1999); 'Black urban turmoil: local level political transformation and ethnicity in post-apartheid, pre-election South Africa' (South African Journal of Ethnology, 2000); 'No fixed abode: the poorest of the poor and elusive identities in rural South Africa; (Journal of Southern Africa Studies, 2002); Deconstruct, self-destruct or reconstruct: the state of Anthropology in Southern Africa' (Anthropology Southern Africa, 2002); 'Strangers in their own land – strategies, social resources and domestic fluidity of peripatetic Karretjie People of the South African Karoo' (Chapter in Berland, JC & Ras, A (eds); 'Customary Strangers: New Perspectives on Peripatetic Peoples in the Middle East, Africa, and Africa' (Praeger, London, 2004).

Ref: H05P0212