Professor Gail Super discusses the 'blurry' space between policing and collective punishment in South Africa in "U of T News"

January 16, 2019 by Kate Paik

Professor Gail Super was featured in U of T News for her research in the ‘blurry’ space between policing and collective punishment in South Africa. After receiving a SSHRC Insight Development Grant in 2018, Professor Super has been attempting to untangle complex factors affecting the landscape of law and justice in South Africa, such as inadequate policing and vigilantism, to learn how they relate to state formation. In the article, she states how the political and social system of white minority rule and racial segregation, enforced by colonialism and over 40 years of apartheid government, has had lasting effects. Professor Super describes how non-state policing continues to be the norm in South Africa and how residents in South Africa’s informal settlements experience extreme hardship, such as high rates of violence and crime, and scarcity of water and safety. Her research demonstrates that in this type of situation, making communities responsible for crime prevention can be dangerous. For her study, she is examining the arrest and trial of a popular community activist in Cape Town, who was accused of kidnapping, assaulting and killing two men believed by residents to have been involved in two incidents of rape and murder. The case ultimately demonstrates how constitutional principles, such as the right to bail, are distorted in practice and applied unevenly.

Professor Super is an Assistant Professor of Sociology with teaching responsibilities at the Mississauga campus. Her broader research program focuses on the political context of penal policy-making, specifically the role of crime and punishment in constituting authority and vice versa. She has published articles in a number of top journals, including The Law and Society Review; Punishment and Society;  and Theoretical Criminology. Her first book Governing through Crime in South Africa: The Politics of Race and Class in Neoliberalizing Regimes was published by Ashgate in 2013.

An excerpt of the article is included below (the full article can be found here).

“In these marginalized communities, there’s often an overlap between lawful forms of crime prevention, like neighbourhood watch groups, and unlawful forms of collective punishment. I’m interested in that blurry in-between space, and what it says about the levels of punitiveness in a democracy,” says Super, an assistant professor of sociology whose study, called “Precarious penality on the periphery: Crime prevention and punishment in South Africa's informal settlements,” won a $10,000 Connaught Fund New Researcher Award last year.

South Africa is one of the world’s most unequal societies, says Super, a South African citizen who practised human rights law in Namibia. The effects of colonialism and more than 40 years of apartheid government, in which a political and social system of white minority rule and racial segregation was brutally enforced, have had lasting effects, felt well beyond the 1994 transition to formal democracy.

These effects include disproportionately high levels of unevenly distributed violent crime, poverty, and staggeringly high levels of unemployment.

Read the full story.