Peacebuilding for the urban displaced: understanding participation and community in South African social cohesion interventions

Anderson, Jessica
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This thesis explores whether the body of literature on peacebuilding—in both operational tools and theoretical research— is relevant in a context of urban displacement. It particularly focuses on ‘community’ and participation as critical constructs that are affected by the invisibility, mobility, diversity, and insecurity that characterize urban displacement environments. For this thesis, I conducted field research with twelve social cohesion interventions that responded to the 2008 xenophobic violence in South Africa. In light of recent experiences with xenophobic violence, and the subsequent civil society response of social cohesion interventions, urban South Africa represents a unique case study that marries peacebuilding issues with an urban displacement context. This thesis argues that the urban displacement characteristics of mobility, diversity, insecurity, and invisibility ultimately challenge peacebuilding ideas of participation and ‘community’. The first section of this thesis summarizes the history of peacebuilding and urban displacement literature. Then, the concept of ‘friction’ is discussed as a way to understand the effects of carrying out ‘traditional’ peacebuilding interventions in a context of urban displacement. ‘Friction’ is further used to interrogate and understand the assumptions embedded in concepts of community and participation. The second section of this thesis focuses on my fieldwork with social cohesion intervention staff, and how concepts of community and participation manifest themselves in these interventions. These findings ultimately demonstrate the complexity of operating in a context of urban displacement, and the need to question the uncontested categories and assumptions of both practical tools and academic literature in peacebuilding.