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Reformulating Identities: British Settlers in Early Nineteenth-Century South Africa

Alan Lester
Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers
Vol. 23, No. 4 (1998), pp. 515-531
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/623179
Page Count: 17
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Reformulating Identities: British Settlers in Early Nineteenth-Century South Africa
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Abstract

This paper examines the formation of a colonial identity among settlers from the British Isles who were relocated to the eastern frontier of the Cape Colony in 1820. It suggests that material aspirations united certain of the settlers in a political programme, and thus began the erosion of imported class (and other) divisions. However, it argues that their establishment as a capitalist colonial class is an insufficient explanation for their construction of a shared and emotive British settler identity. The settlers modified their inherited discourses of class, race, gender and nationality in order to forge solidarity, and the imperative for solidarity derived not so much from their mutual desire for accumulation, but from a corresponding collective insecurity. Not only were settlers afraid of Khoikhoi labour rebellion and Xhosa reprisals for land loss; they also feared abandonment by a seemingly unsympathetic metropole. Their aggressive capitalist endeavour, and collective fear of its destabilizing consequences, were two sides of the same coin, informing the development of a unifying social identity. The paper goes on to consider the mechanisms through which that identity was sustained, including acts of landscape representation, the textual generation of collective memory and the practice of communally binding, quotidian, gendered routines.

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