Journal of Housing and the Built Environment

, Volume 28, Issue 4, pp 679–688 | Cite as

Ambivalent geographies of encounter inside and around the fortified homes of middle class Whites in Cape Town

  • Nick Schuermans


Drawing on in-depth interviews with 78 middle class Whites in two neighborhoods of Cape Town, this paper focuses on domestic geographies of encounter. By looking at the motivations to fortify houses with walls, gates and alarms, it will be demonstrated, first, that seemingly banal actions to secure the residential environment are not only dependent upon the socio-spatial exclusion of poor people, but also specifically targeting it. Secondly, it will be argued that fortified homes provide, nevertheless, one of the rare places where White, middle class South Africans interact across class and race lines. Precisely because of the perceived absence of a crime threat, encounters with domestic workers, builders and homeless people inside and around fortified homes do not only help middle class Whites to shatter their naive assumptions about crime, poverty and privilege, but to set up small-scale acts of generosity as well. Based on these findings, the conclusion raises three issues to take up in the geographies of encounter literature. They relate to the nature of interactions, the conditions under which they emerge and their potential effects.


Fear of crime Fortification Generosity Geographies of encounter Home In-depth interviews South Africa 



I would like to thank Bruno Meeus, Caroline Newton and two anonymous reviewers for very helpful comments on earlier versions of this paper. My PhD research has been funded by a PhD Grant of the Institute for the Promotion of Innovation through Science and Technology in Flanders (IWT-Vlaanderen).


  1. Altbeker, A. (2007). A country at war with itself. Jeppestown: Jonathan Ball.Google Scholar
  2. Amin, A. (2002). Ethnicity and the multicultural city: Living with diversity. Environment and Planning A, 34, 959–980.Google Scholar
  3. Ballard, R. (2004). The ant and the grasshopper: Rationalizing exclusion and inequality in the postapartheid city. Theoria, 105, 64–88.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Barnett, C., & Land, D. (2007). Geographies of generosity: Beyond the ‘moral turn’. Geforum, 38, 1065–1075.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Bauman, Z. (2003). City of fears, city of hopes. London: Goldsmiths College.Google Scholar
  6. Bissell, D. (2010). Passenger mobilities: Affective atmospheres and the sociality of public transport. Environment and Planning D, 28, 270–289.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Bowlby, S. (2011). Friendship, co-presence and care: Neglected spaces. Social and Cultural Geography, 12, 605–622.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Brickell, K. (2012). ‘Mapping’ and ‘doing’ critical geographies of home. Progress in Human Geography, 36, 225–244.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Christopher, A. J. (2001). The atlas of changing South Africa. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  10. Cock, J. (1980). Maids and madams: A study in the politics of exploitation. Johannesburg: Ravan Press.Google Scholar
  11. Coolen, H., & Meesters, J. (2012). Editorial special issue: House, home and dwelling. Journal of Housing and the Built Environment, 27, 1–10.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Cox, R., & Narula, R. (2003). Playing Happy Families: Rules and relationships in au pair employing households in London, England. Gender, Place and Culture, 10, 333–344.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. De Cauter, L. (2004). De capsulaire beschaving; Over de stad in het tijdperk van de angst. Rotterdam: NAi.Google Scholar
  14. Dinkelman, T., & Ranchhod, V. (2010). Evidence on the impact of minimum wage laws in an informal sector: Domestic workers in South Africa. A Southern Africa Labour and Development Research Unit working paper number 44. Cape Town: SALDRU.Google Scholar
  15. Dinkelman, T., & Ranchhod, V. (2012). Evidence on the impact of minimum wage laws in an informal sector: Domestic workers in South Africa. Journal of Development Economics, 99, 27–45.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Du Preez, J., Beswick, C., Whittaker, L., & Dickinson, D. (2010). The employment relationship in the domestic workspace in South Africa: Beyond the apartheid legacy. Social Dynamics, 36, 395–409.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Dupuis, A., & Thorns, D. C. (1998). Home, home ownership and the search for ontological security. The Sociological Review, 46, 24–47.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Everts, J. (2010). Consuming and living the corner shop: Belonging, remembering, socialising. Social and Cultural Geography, 11, 847–863.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Fish, J. N. (2006). Engendering democracy: Domestic labour and coalition-building in South Africa. Journal of Southern African Studies, 32, 107–127.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Ginsburg, R. (1999). Serving apartheid? Domestic workers and the racial geographies of White suburban households, Johannesburg, South Africa, 1960s–1970s. Historical Geography, 27, 56–72.Google Scholar
  21. Hyslop, J. (2000). Why did Apartheid’s supporters capitulate? “Whiteness”, class and consumption in urban South Africa, 1985–1995. Society in Transition, 31, 36–44.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Kearns, A., Hiscock, R., Ellaway, A., & Macintyre, S. (2000). ‘Beyond four walls’ the psychosocial benefits of home: Evidence from West-Central Scotland. Housing Studies, 15, 387–410.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. King, A. J. (2007). Domestic service in post-apartheid South Africa: Deference and disdain. Aldershot: Ashgate.Google Scholar
  24. Kozak, K. E. (2010). Negotiating the boundaries of home in bed-and-breakfast operations in Calgary, Alberta. Leisure/Loisir, 34, 71–83.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Kracker Selzer, A., & Heller, P. (2010). The spatial dynamics of middle-class formation in postapartheid South Africa: Enclavization and fragmentation in Johannesburg. In J. Go (Ed.), Political power and social theory (Vol. 21, pp. 171–208). England: Emerald Group.Google Scholar
  26. Leitner, H. (2012). Spaces of encounters: Immigration, race, class and the politics of belonging in small-town America. Annals of the Association of American Geographers, 102, 828–846.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Lemanski, C. (2004). A new apartheid? The spatial implications of fear of crime in Cape Town, South Africa. Environment and Urbanization, 16, 101–112.Google Scholar
  28. Matejskova, T., & Leitner, H. (2011). Urban encounters with difference: The contact hypothesis and immigrant integration projects in eastern Berlin. Social and Cultural Geography, 12, 717–741.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Mbembe, A. (2004). Aesthestics of superfluity. Public Culture, 16, 373–405.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. McDowell, L. (2007). Spaces of the home: Absence, presence, new connections and new anxieties. Home Cultures, 4, 129–145.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Newton, C., Schuermans, N. (2013). More than twenty years after the repeal of the Group Areas Act: Housing, spatial planning and urban development in post-apartheid South Africa. Journal of Housing and the Built Environment (this issue).Google Scholar
  32. Saunders, P. (1990). A nation of home-owners. London: Unwin Hyman.Google Scholar
  33. Schuermans, N. (2011). Anxieties, identities and spatialities: Ambivalent geographies of encounter in Cape Town and Flanders. Unpublished PhD dissertation, Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences, University of Leuven.Google Scholar
  34. Schuermans, N., & Newton, C. (2012). Being a young and foreign researcher in South Africa: Towards a post-colonial dialogue. Singapore Journal of Tropical Geography, 33(3), 295–300.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Sennett, R. (1970). The uses of disorder: Personal identity and city life. New York: Alfred A Knopf.Google Scholar
  36. Sibley, D. (1995). Geographies of exclusion. London: Routledge.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Valentine, G. (1989). The geography of women’s fear. Area, 21, 385–390.Google Scholar
  38. Valentine, G. (2008). Living with difference: reflections on geographies of encounter. Progress in Human Geography, 32, 323–337.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Western, J. (1996). Outcast Cape Town. Berkeley: University of California Press.Google Scholar
  40. Wilson, H. F. (2011). Passing propinquities in the multicultural city: the everyday encounters of bus passengering. Environment and Planning A, 43, 634–649.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Wilson, H.F. (2013). Multicultural learning: Parent encounters with difference in a Birmingham Primary School. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers (in press).Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Earth and Environmental SciencesKU LeuvenLeuvenBelgium
  2. 2.Faculty of Architecture, Campus Sint-Lucas BrusselsKU LeuvenBrusselsBelgium

Personalised recommendations