Whose crisis? Development interventions and the politics of representation of masculinities and migration in Africa


  • Linda Musariri University of Amsterdam


Representation, statistical indicators, crisis, masculinities, development


While anthropologists have been occupied on focusing on certain ‘cultures’ and their supposed impediment to development, relatively little research has been done on the institutional cultures of specific development actors, such as non-governmental organizations (NGOs), particularly on the ways they produce and disseminate their knowledge and how such processes may contribute to the crisis narrative. The crisis of masculinities and migration crisis narratives in South Africa as elsewhere emanate from development actors because they are mandated to identify and respond to problems and crises affecting communities. Their effectiveness in responding to such problems is directly tied to continued streams of funding. As a result, the narratives that currently dominate development work paint a gloomy picture of the said crises to justify interventions that are supposedly the needed solutions to bring about change. With this case study, I explore how problematising narratives around masculinities emerge, specifically highlighting the role of NGOs in perpetuating such hegemonic ideologies. I advance my arguments using data drawn from an ethnographic study which focused on masculinities and violence, conducted from June 2017 to February 2018 in Johannesburg. I use politics of representation as a lens to unpack the processes of knowledge production within development interventions, linking this to the colonial trope that represents Africa as a place of perpetual deficiencies and crises. I conclude that the development interventions aiming to ‘fix’ men have led to a proliferation of the crisis discourse, presenting a black marginalized man as the face of problematic masculinities in South Africa.


Adams, A.K. (2022) Invisible men: The social complexities of involving males in biomedical HIV prevention in Eswatini, PhD diss Amsterdam: University of Amsterdam

Adamson, A. (2017) Divergent Masculinity Discourses among Stellenbosch Student Males: Traditional Masculinity and the Progressive Male/New Man Discourse. PhD diss., University of Stellenbosch.

Anand, D. (2007) Western Colonial Representations of the Other: The Case of Exotica Tibet, New Political Science, 29(1), pp. 23-42

Avert (2019) HIV and AIDS in South Africa. Avert website. Accessed 10 November 2019. https://avert.org/professionals/hiv-around-world/sub-saharan-africa/south-africa.

Baldonado, A. (1996) Representation – Postcolonial Studies. Scholarblogs.emory.edu. Accessed 18 May 2020, from https://scholarblogs.emory.edu/postcolonialstudies/2014/06/21/representation/.

Bates, T.R. (1975) Gramsci and the theory of hegemony, Journal of the history of ideas 36(2), 351

Biehl, J. n.d Theorising global health, Medicine Anthropology Theory 3(2), pp. 127-142

Baldonado, A. (1996) Representation. Online. Postcolonial Studies at Emory Pages available at https://scholarblogs.emory.edu/postcolonialstudies/2014/06/21/representation/

Bose, L. and R. Gordon (2019) The Politics of Representation. available at https://www.thesociologicalreview.com/the-politics-of-representation/

Burchardt, M., Patterson, A.S. and L, Mubanda Rasmussen (2013) The Politics and Anti-Politics of Social Movements: Religion and HIV/AIDS in Africa, Canadian Journal of African Studies / Revue Canadienne Des Études Africaines 47(2), pp.171–85.

Chiolane-Tsoka, E. and N. Mmako (2014) Effects of migration and immigration on SMMEs: the case study of Diepsloot informal settlement, South Africa, Problems and Perspectives in Management, 12(4), pp. 377-383

Christofides, N,J., Hatcher, A.M., D,Rebombo et al. (2020) Effectiveness of a multi-level intervention to reduce men’s perpetration of intimate partner violence: a cluster randomised controlled trial, Trials 21(359), pp.1-14

Comaroff, J. and J. Comaroff (1999) Occult economies and the violence of abstraction: Notes from postcolony, American Ethnologist 26(2), pp.279-303

Cummings, S.J.R., Munthali, N., and P. Shapland (2021) A systemic approach to the decolonization of knowledge: implications for scholars of development studies. In: Making knowledge work differently: The politics of knowledge in inclusive development and innovation (edited by Ludwig, D., Leeuwis, C., Boogaard, B.K., & Macnaghten,. P. ) Routledge

Deutshe Welle n.d A glimpse inside Johannesburg's Diepsloot slum, accessed 5 10 2020 https://www.dw.com/en/a-glimpse-inside-johannesburgs-diepsloot-slum/a-17720678

Dube, S.I. (2016) Race Silence: The Oversignification of Black Men in "the Crisis of/in Masculinities" in Post-Apartheid South Africa, Acta Academica 48(1), pp. 72–90

Emelobe, E.D. (2009) Filmic representation in postcolonial discourse: A study of selected film texts. http://www.ajol.info/index.php/cajtms/article/viewFile/76598/67047, accessed 1 October 2020

Greenhalgh, S. (2003) Science, Modernity, and the Making of China's One-Child Policy, Population and Development Review 29(2), pp.163-196

Heywood, A. (1994) Political Ideas and Concepts: An Introduction, London, Macmillan.

Hillier, J. and G. Abrahams (2013) Deleuze and Guattari: Jean Hillier in Conversation with Gareth Abrahams, Semantic Scholar

Jewkes, R. K. and R. Morrell (2010) Gender and Sexuality: Emerging Perspectives from the Heterosexual Epidemic in South Africa and Implications for HIV Risk and Prevention, Journal of International AIDS Society 13 (1), pp. 1-11

Mbembe, A. (2001) On the Postcolony, Berkeley: University of California Press.

Merry, S.E. (2011) Measuring the World Indicators, Human Rights, and Global Governance, Current Anthropology 52 (S3), pp. S83-95.

Mfecane, S. (2018) Towards African-centred theories of masculinity, Social Dynamics 44(2), pp. 291-305

Morrell, R. (1998) Of Boys and Men: Masculinity and Gender in Southern African Studies, Journal of Southern African Studies 24(4), pp. 605–30

Mueller-Hirth, N. (2019)‘Walking the Tightrope’: The Funding of South African NGOs and the Governance of Community Development In: Funding, Power and Community Development (edited by N. McCrea and F Finnegan), Bristol: Bristol University Press 39–54

Ndlovu-Gatsheni, S. (2015) Decoloniality as the future of Africa, History Compass 13(10), pp. 485-496

Nguyen, V. (2009) Government-by-Exception: Enrolment and experimentality in mass HIV treatment programmes in Africa, Social Theory and Health 7(3), pp. 196-217

Nyamnjoh, F.B. (2015) Incompleteness: Frontier Africa and the Currency of Conviviality, Journal of Asian and African Studies 52 (3), pp. 253–70

Spivak, G.C. (1992) Can the Subaltern Speak? In: Colonial Discourse and Post-Colonial Theory (edited by P. Williams and L. Chrisman), New York: Columbia University Press, 1992), pp. 66-111.

Ratele, K. (2016) Liberating Masculinities, Cape Town: Human Sciences Research Council.

Torkington, K. and F.P Ribeiro. (2019) ‘What are these people: migrants, immigrants, refugees?’: Migration related terminology and representations in Portuguese digital press headlines, Discourse, Context and Media (27), pp. 22-31

Vanyoro, K, P. and L. Ncube (2018) [Re]-presenting knowledge: The coverage of xenophobia research in selected South African Newspapers, 2008-2013, Journal of Communication and Media Research 10 (1), pp. 76-89

Vigneswaran, D. (2013) The contours of disorder: crime maps and territorial policing in South Africa, Environment and Planning D: Society and Space (31), pp. 91- 107

wa Thiong'o, N. (1986) Decolonizing the mind: The politics of language in African literature, Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Wilkinson, K. 2014. Why It’s Wrong to Call South Africa – or Any Country – the World’s "Rape Capital", Africa Check, available at https://africacheck.org/reports/why-it-is-wrong-to-call-s-africa-or-any-country-the-rape-capital-of-the-world/