Accepted Paper:

'Fence-Lines' as a Conduit for the Moral Order in South African Nature Conservation  


James Merron (University of Basel)

Paper short abstract:

When researchers and farmers in South Africa stand next to a fence and talk about the differences on each side, what sorts of topics are discussed? How might this situation offer evidence about theorizing the way in which the 'moral order' is constituted?

Paper long abstract:

Among the many things that fences do - or at least facilitate - one characteristic feature is that they constitute a moral order, creating an in and an out. These power relations are both visual and material (Miescher), which I take as a starting point to suggest a reading of the 'fence line archive' as a performance of the moral order. What I mean by this is a collection and circulation of photographs among a network of ecologists in South Africa used to make claims over space. These images of 'fences-line contrasts' "constitute arguments in their own right" (Hongslo, 2015 p.339). On one side of the fence there is grass. On the other side there is none. Therefore, simply pointing and saying "there is a difference in the fence" can index good land management or poor land management. My contribution to this discussion is to re-engineer a translation process by tracing the images of fences that appear in journals and reports down to a situation in which they are enacted. This situation takes place within a Nature Reserve in South Africa where researchers and farmers stand next to a fence and talk about nature conservation and what farmer ought to do. This talk offers an occasion to analyze the 'fence' as a conduit of the moral order (Jayyusi, 1984) particularly in regard to what exist inside of nature, and that which is said to exist outside of it.

Panel P141
Lines of Control - Lines of Desire: Towards an Integrated History of Fencing in Southern Africa