Book Review: Surviving gangs, violence, and racism in Cape Town: Ghetto chameleons

Date01 March 2022
Published date01 March 2022
Subject MatterBook Reviews
Lindegaard, M. (2018).
Surviving gangs, violence, and racism in Cape Town: Ghetto chameleons. New York, NY: Routledge. 289 pp. $128.00,
ISBN 978-0-415-81891-9.
Reviewed by: Heith Copes, University of Alabama at Birmingham, Birmingham, AL, USA
DOI: 10.1177/0734016819833133
In the early 2000s, parkour gained worldwide popularity. Parkour is the practice of navigating an
urban landscape in an artful way and involves moving across physical space efciently to remove
obstacles and impediments. Practitioners of parkour (i.e., tracuers) must be aware of the environment,
what obstacles are near, and how to navigate them based on personal skills. As parkour was gaining
prominence, Marie Lindegaard began her ethnographic work in Cape Town, South Africa. In the
product of this work, Surviving Gangs, Violence, and Racism in Cape Town: Ghetto Chameleons,
Lindegaard explains how young people in Cape Town navigated their social worlds to avoid violence
and victimization. In many ways, both Lindegaard and those she studied resemble traceurs navigat-
ing an urban environment. Like a traceur, Lindegaard adeptly traverses the world of those she
studied. Similarly, her participants are like traceurs as they travel between social worlds (from
ghettos to suburbs and back) and invoke various cultural repertoires to avoid threats that emerge
during their travels.
Lindegaard begins by placing her study in a larger social, theoretical, and methodological context.
She describes the historical legacy of apartheid and the resulting denitions and uidity of race found
in South Africa. This context provides the stage where South Africans act out race and identity using
available cultural repertoires. The larger theoretical argument of the book is that people navigate their
worlds by drawing on the various cultural repertoires—“tool kits that includes a range of actions,
habits, skills and styles that are drawn upon in the process of social positioning(p. 20)at their
disposal. She nds that young South Africans could call forth gang, township, suburban, and exible
cultural repertoires when making their way through ghettos, townships, and suburbs. While people
are constrained by culture, they have agency in how they choose specic repertoires. People vary in
their access to specic repertoires and in their adeptness at situationally using these repertoires. Those
who are more exible in drifting among cultural repertoires may have more success in traversing cul-
tures than those who are not. In short, culture is uid and people can pull from a variety of cultural
beliefs when acting and making sense of their actions.
Those who draw on exible cultural repertoires (i.e., ghetto chameleons) highlight the similarities
shared with traceurs. That is, they show the improvisational and situational nature of switching
among repertoires. They must be prepared for situations and adapt to their social surroundings
based on their particular abilities. Those with more prociency at this are more successful in navi-
gating multiple terrains. They can move between the races and classes much like traceurs move
over and around obstacles in the urban environment.
Lindegaard is able to bring the participantsworlds to the reader when telling their stories. I espe-
cially like the inclusion of participant-driven photos in the book. By providing participants with
cameras, Lindegaard was able to show aspects of participantslives that would otherwise remain
distant to readers. We see their homes, their families, and their troubles. We see their struggles
with poverty, drugs, and violence. And, we are shown all of this from the literal point of view of
the participants. When one young man discusses the ways he navigates the anxiety caused by
drug use, gambling, and alcoholism in and around his home, we can see, rsthand, the places he
must traverse and the people he must manage.
We should not forget that research is also inuenced by those who conduct it. The researchers
personality and social position can inuence data collection. Thus, we must be aware of how data
Book Reviews 121

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