The haunted moral economy of an elite school.

Year: 2012

Author: Kenway, Jane, Epstein, Debbie

Type of paper: Abstract refereed


Underneath an elite girls' school in South Africa lie the archeological remains of slave life. The schools' boxed-up archives are in a dark office nearby. The diggings, once open to visitors interested in the history of slaves in South Africa, are now closed. And there is no longer a living archive. The school is modernizing, corporatizing and, like many institutions worldwide, has no time or money for history. And yet, as Derrida might say, the school's revenants, although repressed, live on. Its architecture is Dutch, its roots are English and its changing racial composition tells of apartheid and post apartheid South Africa.


This school has a history of privileged benevolence, which is haunted by the longue duree of Christian charity, aristocratic noblesse oblige and English colonialism's civilizing mission. But, paradoxically perhaps, the British also successfully brought an end to Dutch colonial settlers' use of slave labour. They thus significantly undermined the Africana economy at the time, leaving a long-lasting legacy of bitterness and a sense of moral ascendancy amongst the British - a sense that has carried through in the school's anti apartheid activism and its current acts of altruism.


Through Derrida's notion of hauntology, this paper tries to understand this school's strange moral economy. In so doing it implicitly challenges the conventional celebratory genre of elite school history and also seeks to contribute to a historiography of elite schooling that properly acknowledges their colonial, post colonial and transnational connections.