Constructed Representations of Street Protest Violence: Speaking Violence, Speaking Race

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In this article, we explore how violence is constructed in an online discussion forum to the Fees Must Fall social movement in South Africa. Our analysis shows how the discursive constructs of race, students as delinquents, and the police force as necessary to social order allow for some forms of violence to be justified and valorized and other forms to be denounced as illegitimate and deviant. Given South Africa’s tumultuous racial past and its endorsement of structural violence as legitimate form of social control and discipline, it is not surprising that the function and place of violence in the current student protests has arisen as particularly contentious for many in the country. The interface with the racial profile of the movement has made this use of violence even more problematic in how the public engage with the claims to violence by different social actors. We argue that the framing of police violence as merely responsive, necessary to law and order and depoliticizing of the student movement in this forum make it possible to justify brutal acts of police violence.

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