White weddings

Mupotsa, Danai S
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White Weddings falls under the National Research Foundation (NRF) Chair on “Local Histories, Present Realities”, at the University of the Witwatersrand. The project was initiated by an interest in the promulgation of mediated representations of big fat South African weddings that reflect the conspicuous consumption of a “new” black middle class and elite in South Africa. The project reads consumption as a site for the elaboration of new forms of personhood in post/transition South Africa, read alongside a more critical genealogy of the black consumer. Reading ethnographic data against media/ted representations, this project emphasizes the liminality between the real and the imagined that weddings offer those have them as an opportunity to be literally on stage, performing an aspired for self/celebrity. The projects also views wedding rituals as the public performance of sex, working to regulate our heteronorms they literally perform our desires and aspirations (read differently from desire) for the “family” and “nation”, marking gendered and raced bodies into an oedipalized process of myth-making that frequently slides past social analysis. I queer-y the innocence of our everyday understandings of coupledom and marriage to suggest that the meanings produced in the marriage ritual are constitutive of the discourse of différance. I refuse the dichotomy of tradition/modernity, which like others work to make natural deeply problematic conceptions, seeking a mode of thinking that recognises motion and is therefore nomadic. Nomadic thinking works particularly well for those of us examining the “local” in African spaces as subjects work and produce themselves more fluidly than more confined models of temporality suggest or allow. I propose the figuration “becoming-black-bride”, to foreground the black women who were the subjects of the research, as well as the local that occurs through the marriage ritual is a central thread. Through this figure, I suggest that the circuits of capital, labour and consumption come to a head with the work of race, class, gender and sex. My reading of marriage rituals is not simply a critique of compulsory heterosexuality and heteronormativity, but through the figure of becoming-black-bride, I reveal the fragility of the aspiration of being properly human. The marriage ritual intends to enact intimacy in public for a reason; certainly, as I suggest this includes the aspiration for or to restore Order. Concluding “Against Love?” These rituals enact our desires to be visible within the logics of being properly human so through them, like other kinds of statements for inclusion we can and do make political demands. I am therefore tentative in my dismissal of these demands like others before me who for example support civil rights movements for marriage equality, but recognize that this form of inclusive politics is fundamentally problematic. Concluding “Against Love?”, my critique of marriage practices and rituals attends to the enjoyment, pleasure, relations, dispossessions, anxieties, expectations, disappointments and negotiations attached to these modes of performing our selves and experiencing connection with others.
A thesis submitted in fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in the Faculty of Humanities at the University of Witwatersrand, Johannesburg.