The young, the wealthy, and the restless: trans-national capitalist elite formation in post-apartheid Johannesburg
Abstract: Contemporary economic landscapes are particularly active with mergers, acquisitions, bankruptcies, and corporate takeovers, and the set of managerial elite who are in decision making positions are inextricably connected to these events. In this thesis I offer an anthropological perspective of these dynamics by considering the possible connection between processes of trans- national capitalist elite formation and identification, and larger transformations in the global system. More specifically, I set out to study the formation and identification of African trans- national capitalist elite living in Johannesburg at a specific historical conjuncture. I seek to analyse the emergence of a new African elite at a time when liberalised capitalist proliferation in Africa, and in South Africa in particular, became not only politically encouraged, but rapid, complex, and unpredictable. I take as my point of departure a time of transition in the identification of a set of African business men and women, as they emphasise their distinction as “ambitious cosmopolitan capitalists” from “others”. I seek to understand their identity practices and discourses as a “trans- national elite”, in connection with simultaneously occurring processes of social, political, and economic transformations in South Africa, and throughout the global system. My aim is to demonstrate the conceptual connection between a set of trans- national socio-political and economic processes which are informed by the predominating neo-liberal ideological discourse, and issues of identification of the people who are considered to incarnate such processes. Through an anthropological understanding and analysis of their activities, their personal histories, their professional projects and ambitions, their social identity and their sense of self, I thus seek to examine the interconnection between the formation and identification of these elite and transformations within the larger global system.
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