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Dr. Zachary Levenson Publishes Book on Land Occupation and Eviction in South Africa

Dr. Zachary Levenson’s book Delivery as Dispossession: Land Occupation and Eviction in the Postapartheid City will be released in April 2022 on Oxford University Press. The book is based on a decade of participant observation fieldwork in two land occupations in Cape Town, South Africa, and proposes a relational theory of the state that will appeal to scholars who work on developmental, welfare, postcolonial, and capitalist states.

In postapartheid South Africa, nearly a fifth of the urban population lives in shacks. Unable to wait any longer for government housing, people occupy land, typically seeking to fly under the state’s radar. Yet in most cases, occupiers wind up in dialogue with the state. In Delivery as Dispossession, Levenson follows this journey from avoidance to incorporation, explaining how the postapartheid Constitution shifts squatters’ struggles onto the judicial register. Providing a comparative ethnographic account of two land occupations in Cape Town and highlighting occupiers’ struggles, Levenson further demonstrates why it is that housing officials seek the eviction of all new occupations: they view these unsanctioned settlements as a threat to the order they believe is required for delivery. Yet in evicting occupiers, he argues, they reproduce the problem anew, with subsequent rounds of land occupation as the inevitable consequence. Offering a unique framework for thinking about local states, this book proposes a novel theory of the state that will change the way ethnographers think about politics.

The research that culminated in the book started when Levenson was a graduate student in the Department of Sociology at the University of California at Berkeley. On his extensive ethnographic research, Dr. Levenson said: “The fieldwork began in 2011, and I’ve continued conducting fieldwork over the course of the past decade. Initially I began my ethnography in Durban and Johannesburg, but I ended up studying land occupations in Cape Town, where I’ve been doing research ever since.” Currently, Dr. Levenson is sharing his expertise on ethnographic research with graduate students in his graduate seminar “Ethnography in Theory and Practice.” He is also teaching “Readings in Contemporary Political Sociology” and “Space and Power in the City” for undergraduates.