Orders of protection: Feminist lessons in anti-privatization and authoritarianism from South Africa
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The feminist adage “the personal is political” is not ahistorical. It is being operationalized in a time when the relationship between the private and the public is undergoing historic transformation. Making privatized violence public under current conditions often involves channeling the most authoritarian tendencies of the state into relationships made increasingly desperate by the conditions of contemporary capitalism. The ethnographic focus of the essay is the work of a feminist organization operating in the context of Lavender Hill in Cape Town, a neighborhood created by apartheid forced removals and made more precarious by post-apartheid abandonment. The essay focuses on an explosion in the use of protection orders to compel police to intervene in the intimate relationships of households and neighbors, and offers an extended explanation of how and why feminism provides an exemplary case of reactionary politics for our times. The essay ends with a plea to draw on a different trajectory of feminism as a way of reconstituting a transformative political agenda, one that must take the historical transformations of racial capitalism seriously.