I am a researcher and writer based at the University of the Western Cape, where I am the Director of the Institute for Poverty, Land and Agrarian Studies (PLAAS).
My initial training was in the field of political theory and the analysis of discourse and ideology, but at present I work mainly on the sociology and political economy of poverty and inequality. As a sociologist and a theorist, my central concern is with understanding how structural poverty and inequality are perpetuated and challenged – both at the level of the everyday (and individual lives) and at the level of larger scales and longer durations.
For the last 20 years, I have worked in the field of rural and agrarian sociology, tracing the connections between structural poverty, adverse incorporation and sociopolitical marginality, first in the commercial farmlands of the Western Cape and later on the migrant routes that connect Cape Town’s peri-urban shanty towns and their rural hinterlands. In recent years, I have also been active in the investigation of the nature and functioning of the South African food system: how its structure works to perpetuate poverty and ill-health, and how poor and marginal people seek to survive within it.
My abiding concern throughout has been with the political, policy and social consequences of jobless de-agrarianisation in present-day South African capitalism, and of the growth of large populations of people who are economically and socially marginal but whose political claims for survival, dignity and voice cannot be ignored. But as a student of ideology I retain a strong and lively interest in the politics discourse – particularly in the way in which unexamined assumptions shape the ways in which we think about development and development research.
As PLAAS Director, I work closely with a small group researchers and administrators who specialise in in-depth research, postgraduate teaching and policy advice on a range of matters relating to agrarian poverty and livelihoods in the context of the contested politics of land, water, food and agriculture in Southern Africa. I am also part of the Management Team of the Centre of Excellence in Food Security hosted at the University of the Western Cape, where I head up a research programme concerned with the structural dynamics of food system change in South Africa.