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Research done in Woodlane: A narrative inquiry into home and belonging in an informal settlement

Study done by Pieter Francois de Vos

Image: CoDesign Studio at the Department of Architecture (2022).


This narrative inquiry explores the experiences of ‘home’ and ‘belonging’ in Woodlane Village, an informal settlement (squatter camp) in Pretoria, South Africa. From July to October 2012 and August to September 2013 I spent time in conversation with four men inquiring into our experiences of home. Our journeys and our relationships are retold as narrative accounts. These accounts are set against the backdrop of the events that led to the creation of Woodlane Village and the larger social and historical forces that have shaped South Africa.

They convey the nuanced and complex ways in which people make sense of home and belonging. In doing so, they reveal how individuals experience life in a temporary and transient community and the negotiations required to make a home in such a place. While the stories are situated within Woodlane Village they speak to the larger experience of being human and the ways in which we create belonging through relationships. They speak of love and loss, of adaptation and resilience, and of the yearning to live in community with others despite the forces pulling us apart. In this way, the stories offer new insights to the unique realities of post-apartheid South Africa. The experiential complexity of life in the settlement mirrors the contrasts, tensions, and dynamics in the country. The resulting dissertation is a meditation on history, place, and identity — and the way our understandings of ourselves are constructed and refashioned through the stories we tell about our lives and our homes. As such, the work expands our understandings of narrative, intersubjectivity, and place-making. It also breaks new ground by bringing the methodology of narrative inquiry into the discipline of anthropology.

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