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Study information

A Culture of Violence? Violence and Conflict in South African History, 1880-present: Sources

Module titleA Culture of Violence? Violence and Conflict in South African History, 1880-present: Sources
Module codeHIH3031
Academic year2018/9
Module staff

Dr Emily Bridger (Convenor)

Duration: Term123
Duration: Weeks



Number students taking module (anticipated)


Module description

Violent conflict has been at the centre of modern South African history. The colonial state and apartheid regime both employed extensive violence against South Africa’s non-white populations. Over time, the toxic combination of structural violence, in the form of material deprivation and poverty, and physical violence, perpetrated by the police and security forces, encouraged counter-violence against the state and within the family, home, and community. This module introduces you to the sources documenting these various forms of violence, and to the various methodological approaches used by South African historians.

Module aims - intentions of the module

Given South Africa’s exceptionally high rights of violent crime, gender-based violence, and police brutality, many observers speak of the country in terms of a “culture of violence”, first bred during the colonial and apartheid periods, and furthered under the post-apartheid state. Violence in South Africa has become normative rather than deviant, and used as a regular means of resolving social, political, and domestic conflict. Together with its co-requisite, this module traces the development of such violence, from the foundations of the country’s mining sector in the 19th century, to the repressive conditions of apartheid and the violent methods employed by those who struggled against it, to the country’s recent episodes of xenophobic attacks, escalating rape rates, and use of vigilante justice.

Drawing on published and digitised sources, as well as those collected from South African archives by the module convener, the module will expose you to a wide range of sources spanning from 1880 to the present day. These will include colonial reports and court documents; anthropological studies; memoirs; oral histories; public histories including museums and monuments; humanitarian organisation reports; films; fiction; magazine articles; and photographs.

Through working with the extensive primary source collections available to this module, you will develop a range of research, analytical, interpretative and communication skills that can be applied in further academic studies or in graduate careers.

Intended Learning Outcomes (ILOs)

ILO: Module-specific skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 1. Demonstrate a detailed knowledge of the different sources available for the study of social, political, and domestic violence in South African history, together with a very close specialist knowledge of those sources which the students focus upon in their seminar presentations and written work
  • 2. Analyse the complex diversity of the sources studied

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 3. Analyse closely original sources and to assess their reliability as historical evidence. Ability to focus on and comprehend complex texts
  • 4. Understand and deploy relevant historical terminology in a comprehensible manner
  • 5. Follow the changing causes of and responses to state violence, communal conflict, criminality, and gender-based violence in South African history

ILO: Personal and key skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 6. Conduct independent and autonomous study and group work, including presentation of material for group discussion, developed through the mode of learning
  • 7. Digest, select and organise material to produce, to a deadline, a coherent and cogent argument, developed through the mode of assessment
  • 8. Present complex arguments orally

Syllabus plan

This module focuses on the sources available for the study of violence and conflict in South Africa from 1880 to the present. Whilst the content may vary from year to year, it is envisioned that it will cover some or all of the following topics:

  • The foundations of violence in both urban and rural communities in the early 20th century
  • The structural violence of the apartheid system
  • Physical violence employed by the state against non-white and dissenting populations
  • Counter-violence used by the country’s various political movements and liberation organisations
  • The simultaneous development of communal conflict, crime, and gender-based violence within South Africa’s townships and rural areas

This module engages students with a wide range of approaches to South African history, providing them with a detailed understanding of social, political, and cultural histories of the country. In particular, it tasks students with understanding the connections between these various forms of violence, and explores how prolonged political conflict and the structural injustices of apartheid bred wider cultures of domestic violence, gang conflict, and violent crime which have remained in the post-apartheid period.

The introductory sessions for this module will provide an overview of the subject and also expose students to the sources themselves. The seminars will focus on sources drawn from published and digitised resources, allowing students to develop their knowledge of the subject in conjunction with the close analysis of historiography provided in the co-requisite module, and to develop their skills in source analysis and acquisition. Some of the sources will be presented by individual students, others will be presented by students working in groups; and on other occasions there will be open discussion; students may also be expected to present and discuss specific sources they have found themselves from the module resources. You will be expected to prepare for seminars by reading and evaluating the relevant sources in advance, and will discuss the issues raised by them in the seminars.

Learning activities and teaching methods (given in hours of study time)

Scheduled Learning and Teaching ActivitiesGuided independent studyPlacement / study abroad

Details of learning activities and teaching methods

CategoryHours of study timeDescription
Scheduled learning and teaching4422 x 2 hour seminars
Guided independent study256Reading and preparation for seminars, coursework and presentations

Formative assessment

Form of assessmentSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Seminar discussionOngoing through course1-6, 8Oral from tutor and fellow students

Summative assessment (% of credit)

CourseworkWritten examsPractical exams

Details of summative assessment

Form of assessment% of creditSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Portfolio702 assignments totalling 4000 words1-7Oral and written
Individual Presentation3020-30 minutes1-8Oral and written

Details of re-assessment (where required by referral or deferral)

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
PortfolioPortfolio1-7Referral/Deferral period
PresentationWritten transcript of 20 minute presentation1-8

Re-assessment notes

The re-assessment consists of a 4000 word portfolio of source work, as in the original assessment, but replaces the individual presentation with a written script that could be delivered in such a presentation and which is the equivalent of 20 minutes of speech.

Deferral – if you miss an assessment for certificated reasons judged acceptable by the Mitigation Committee, you will normally be either deferred in the assessment or an extension may be granted. The mark given for a re-assessment taken as a result of deferral will not be capped and will be treated as it would be if it were your first attempt at the assessment.

Referral – if you have failed the module overall (i.e. a final overall module mark of less than 40%) you will be required to submit a further assessment as necessary. If you are successful on referral, your overall module mark will be capped at 40%.

Indicative learning resources - Basic reading

  • Jeremy Seekings, “Whose Voices? Politics and Methodology in the Study of Political Organisation and Protest in the Final Phase of the ‘Struggle’ in South Africa.” South African Historical Journal 62:1 (2010): 7-28.
  • Sean Field, Oral History, Community, and Displacement: Imagining Memories in Post-Apartheid South Africa (New York: 2012)
  • Luise White, “Telling More: Lies, Secrets, and History,” History and Theory 39:4 (2000): 11-22.
  • Ann Laura Stoler, “Colonial Archives and the Arts of Governance,” Archival Science 2:1-2 (2002): 87-109.
  • Stephen Ellis, “Writing Histories of Contemporary Africa,” The Journal of African History 43:1 (2002): 1-26.
  • Clifton Crais, The South Africa Reader (Duke University Press, 2013)

Indicative learning resources - Web based and electronic resources

Indicative learning resources - Other resources

  • Exeter Electronic Library resources include: Empire Online, New York Times, Guardian, The Times

Key words search

South Africa; apartheid; violence; crime; gender; youth

Credit value30
Module ECTS


Module pre-requisites

At least 90 credits of History at Level 1 and/or Level 2.

Module co-requisites

HIH3032 A Culture of Violence? Violence and Conflict in South African History, 1880-Present: Context

NQF level (module)


Available as distance learning?


Origin date


Last revision date