Imaginaries of Freedom: The Role of Imagined Futures in South Africa’s Transition from Apartheid

Elizabeth Soer

There is a growing literature on the influence of imagined futures on social, political, and economic conduct. However, as identified by Beckert and Suckert in 2021, there is still a lack of historical studies that provide a “systematic scrutiny of past futures.” The dissertation project aims to respond to this gap in the literature by providing a study of the role of imagined futures in shaping the transition from apartheid in South Africa (SA) in the 1980s to 1990s. The main hypotheses are that imagined futures influenced the transition by, first, shaping the approaches of the anti-apartheid movement. Second, the transition was facilitated by a process of “re-imagining” the future of the nation. Moreover, during SA’s negotiated transition in 1994, scenario planning exercises were used as a tool to limit the futures that seemed to be available to the future government of SA, especially with regard to economic policy. The research will use a historical sociological methodology and draw on a wide range of archival sources as well as limited interviews in order to investigate these hypotheses. Project duration: October 2020 to March 2024.

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