Accepted paper:

Administered Futures: Wills, Inheritance and the Formal Processes of Middle-Class Reproduction in Johannesburg, South Africa

Authors:

Maxim Bolt (University of Birmingham)

Paper short abstract:

This paper explores the formal institutional dimensions of middle-class reproduction in Johannesburg, by focusing on will-making. Extending our analytical reach across generations, wills reveal the place of legal-bureaucratic processes in middle-class families and their plans to pass on property.

Paper long abstract:

This paper explores the formal institutional dimensions of middle-class reproduction in Johannesburg, South Africa, by focusing on will-making. The new middle class has grown exponentially since apartheid. But, amidst high unemployment, the demands of kin compete with efforts to ensure security and status for the next generation. This stratum grows out of an older black middle class rooted in education and occupation. Yet its members also long strove to acquire property. Wills offered ways to contest racialised legislation through exemption from 'customary law' and therefore 'native' status vis-à-vis inheritance. In the post-apartheid era, in Johannesburg's extremely diverse middle class, will-making takes on new significance. Amidst the rapid expansion of financial services, it becomes a target for new business opportunities, extended services to customers, good-cause outreach programmes, and public discussion. State-administered inheritance practices themselves - with their transfers at death to named, individual beneficiaries - are no simple fit with South African middle-class lives. Apartheid-era township houses, defined as collective family accommodation, now provoke intense disagreements. As state institutions and processes refract people's plans and demands, this paper reveals the importance of inheritance for our understanding of middle classes. Such a focus throws into relief the legal, material, symbolic and socially productive dimensions of property, as people strive to pass it on. Different dimensions of class formation and reproduction intersect here: investment and accumulation; planning and aspiration; care and exclusion; dispute and regulation. Extending our analytical reach across generations, wills illuminate the place of legal-bureaucratic processes in middle-class families.

panel P112
Engineering the Middle Classes: State Institutions, Wealth, and Aspirations of Citizenship