Science Fiction Film & Television

From Cheap Labour to surplus humanity

World-ecology and the postapartheid speculative in Neill Blomkamp’s District 9

Science Fiction Film & Television (2018), 11, (1), 45–72.

Abstract

Conventions appropriated from certain forms of speculative fiction – sf, gothic and horror among them – have become increasingly discernible features of diverse contemporary postcolonial imaginaries. In this article, I consider Neill Blomkamp’s District 9 (2009) in light of questions posed by these developments. Drawing on world-ecological thinking (Moore 2015) and highlighting legacies of South African political economy (Wolpe 1972), I suggest the film deploys sf and horror traditions alongside invocations of local history in response to the reorganisation of ‘Nature’ in South Africa in the wake of the transition from apartheid to neoliberal governance. I show that Blomkamp manipulates speculative forms to register the febrile climate of this anxious time, and to contest the logic undergirding historic and ongoing unevenness. In conclusion, I point to key limitations to his project in this last regard.

If you have private access to this content, please log in with your username and password here

Ashforth, Adam. Witchcraft, Violence and Democracy in South Africa. Chicago: Chicago UP, 2005. Witchcraft, Violence and Democracy in South Africa Google Scholar

Beck, Roger. The History of South Africa. Westport: Greenwood Press, 2000. The History of South Africa Google Scholar

Byrne, Deirdre C. ‘Science Fiction in South Africa’. PMLA 119.3 (May 2004): 522−5. Science Fiction in South Africa PMLA 119.3 522 5 Google Scholar

Comaroff, Jean and John L. Comaroff. ‘Alien-nation: Zombies, Immigrants, and Millennial Capitalism’. South Atlantic Quarterly 101.4 (2002): 779−805. Alien-nation: Zombies, Immigrants, and Millennial Capitalism South Atlantic Quarterly 101.4 779 805 Google Scholar

Comaroff, Jean and John L. Comaroff. ‘Millennial Capitalism: First Thoughts on a Second Coming’. Public Culture 12.2 (2000): 291–343. Millennial Capitalism: First Thoughts on a Second Coming Public Culture 12.2 291 343 Google Scholar

Comaroff, Jean and John L. Comaroff. ‘Occult Economies and the Violence of Abstraction: Notes from the South African Postcolony’. American Ethnologist 26.2 (1999): 279−303. Occult Economies and the Violence of Abstraction: Notes from the South African Postcolony American Ethnologist 26.2 279 303 Google Scholar

Crais, Clifton. Poverty, War and Violence in South Africa. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2011. Poverty, War and Violence in South Africa Google Scholar

Davis, Mike. Planet of Slums. London: Verso, 2006. Planet of Slums Google Scholar

Deckard, Sharae. ‘Uncanny States: Global Ecogothic and the World-Ecology in Rana Dasgupta’s Tokyo Cancelled’. EcoGothic. Eds. Andrew Smith and Bill Hughes. Manchester: Manchester UP, 2013. 177–93. Uncanny States: Global Ecogothic and the World-Ecology in Rana Dasgupta’s Tokyo Cancelled EcoGothic 177 93 Google Scholar

DeLoughrey, Elizabeth and George B. Handley. ‘Towards an Aesthetics of the Earth’. Postcolonial Ecologies: Literatures of the Environment. Eds. Elizabeth DeLoughrey and George B. Handley. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2011. 3−34. Towards an Aesthetics of the Earth Postcolonial Ecologies: Literatures of the Environment 3 34 Google Scholar

Duncan, Rebecca. ‘Contemporary South African Horror: On Meat, Neoliberalism and the Postcolonial Politics of a Global Form’. Horror Studies 5.1 (2014): 85−106. Contemporary South African Horror: On Meat, Neoliberalism and the Postcolonial Politics of a Global Form Horror Studies 5.1 85 106 Google Scholar

Duncan, Rebecca. South African Gothic: Anxiety and Creative Dissent in the Post-apartheid Imagination and Beyond. Cardiff: University of Wales Press, forthcoming. South African Gothic: Anxiety and Creative Dissent in the Post-apartheid Imagination and Beyond Google Scholar

Feinstein, Charles H. An Economic History of South Africa: Conquest, Discrimination and Development. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2005. An Economic History of South Africa: Conquest, Discrimination and Development Google Scholar

Frenkel, Ronit and Craig MacKenzie. ‘Conceptualizing Post-Transitional South African Literature in English’. English Studies in Africa 53.1 (2010): 1−10. Conceptualizing Post-Transitional South African Literature in English English Studies in Africa 53.1 1 10 Google Scholar

Gandhi, Leela. Postcolonial Theory: A Critical Introduction. New York: Columbia, 1998. Postcolonial Theory: A Critical Introduction Google Scholar

Haraway, Donna J. ‘Staying with the Trouble: Anthropocene, Capitalocene, Chthulucene’. Anthropocene or Capitalocene: Nature, History and the Crisis of Capitalism. Ed. Jason W. Moore. Oakland: PM Press, 2016. 34−79. Staying with the Trouble: Anthropocene, Capitalocene, Chthulucene Anthropocene or Capitalocene: Nature, History and the Crisis of Capitalism 34 79 Google Scholar

Harvey, David. The New Imperialism. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2003. The New Imperialism Google Scholar

Hatfull, Jonathan. ‘Are we seeing a Boom in South African SciFi?’ (19 Feb 2015). http://www.scifinow.co.uk/interviews/are-we-seeing-a-boom-in-south-african-sci-fi/. Accessed 5 Aug 2016. Google Scholar

Hickel, Jason. ‘Xenophobia in South Africa: Order, Chaos and the Moral Economy of Witchcraft’. Cultural Anthropology 29.1 (2014): 103−27. Xenophobia in South Africa: Order, Chaos and the Moral Economy of Witchcraft Cultural Anthropology 29.1 103 27 Google Scholar

Horkheimer, Max and Theodor W. Adorno. Dialectic of Enlightenment: Philosophical Fragments. Ed. Gunzelin Schmid Noerr. Trans. Edmund Jephcott. Stanford: Stanford UP, 2002. Dialectic of Enlightenment: Philosophical Fragments Google Scholar

Imbs, Jean (2013) ‘The Premature Deindustrialization of South Africa’. The Industrial Policy Revolution II: Africa in the Twenty-First Century. Eds. Jospeh.E. Stiglitz, Justin Li Yifu and Ebrahim Patel. New York and Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2013. 529−40. The Premature Deindustrialization of South Africa The Industrial Policy Revolution II: Africa in the Twenty-First Century 529 40 Google Scholar

Irlam, Shaun. ‘Unravelling the Rainbow: The Remission of the Nation in Post-apartheid Literature’. South Atlantic Quarterly 103.4 (2004): 696−718. Unravelling the Rainbow: The Remission of the Nation in Post-apartheid Literature South Atlantic Quarterly 103.4 696 718 Google Scholar

Lazarus, Neil. ‘The South African Ideology: The Myth of Exceptionalism, the Idea of Renaissance’. South Atlantic Quarterly 103.4 (2004): 607−28. The South African Ideology: The Myth of Exceptionalism, the Idea of Renaissance South Atlantic Quarterly 103.4 607 28 Google Scholar

Marx, Karl. Capital. Volume I: The Process of Production of Capital. Trans. Samuel Moore and Edward Aveling. Ware: Wordsworth, 2013. Capital. Volume I: The Process of Production of Capital Google Scholar

Moore, Jason W. Capitalism in the Web of Life: Ecology and the Accumulation of Capital. London: Verso, 2015. Capitalism in the Web of Life: Ecology and the Accumulation of Capital Google Scholar

Moses, Michael Valdez, Lucy Valerie Graham, John Marx, Gerald Gaylard, Ralph Goodman and Stefan Helgesson. ‘District 9: A Roundtable’. Safundi 11.1−2 (2010): 155−75. District 9: A Roundtable Safundi 11.1−2 155 75 Google Scholar

Niblett, Michael. ‘Specters in the Forest: Gothic and World-Ecology in Edgar Mittelholzer’s My Bones and My Flute’. Small Ax 44 (2014): 53−68. Specters in the Forest: Gothic and World-Ecology in Edgar Mittelholzer’s My Bones and My Flute Small Ax 44 53 68 Google Scholar

Okorafor, Nnedi. Lagoon. London: Hodder & Stoughton, 2014. Lagoon Google Scholar

Okorafor, Nnedi. ‘My Response to District 419 … I mean District 9 ;)’ (23 Aug 2009). http://nnedi.blogspot.co.uk/2009/08/my-response-to-district-419i-mean.html?q=district+9. Accessed 5 Aug 2016. Google Scholar

Oloff, Kerstin. ‘Greening the Zombie: Caribbean Gothic, World-Ecology and Socio-Ecological Degradation’. Green Letters 16.2 (2012): 31−45. Greening the Zombie: Caribbean Gothic, World-Ecology and Socio-Ecological Degradation Green Letters 16.2 31 45 Google Scholar

Reyes, Xavier Aldana. Body Gothic: Corporeal Transgression in Contemporary Literature and Horror Film. Cardiff: U of Wales P, 2014. Body Gothic: Corporeal Transgression in Contemporary Literature and Horror Film Google Scholar

Smith, David. ‘District 9: South Africa and Apartheid Come to the Movies’ (20 Aug 2009). https://www.theguardian.com/film/2009/aug/20/district-9-south-africa-apartheid. Accessed 5 Aug 2016. Google Scholar

Smith, Eric. D. Globalization, Utopia and Postcolonial Science Fiction: New Maps of Hope. New York and Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012. Globalization, Utopia and Postcolonial Science Fiction: New Maps of Hope Google Scholar

Steenkamp, Elzette Lorna. Identity, Belonging and Ecological Crisis in South African Speculative Fiction. Unpublished PhD Thesis. South Africa: Rhodes University, 2011. http://hdl.handle.net/10962/d1002262. Accessed 30 May 2017. Google Scholar

Stoler, Ann Laura. ‘“The Rot Remains”: From Ruin to Ruination’. Imperial Debris: On Ruins and Ruination. Ed. Ann Laura Stoler. Durham & London: Duke UP, 2013. 1−38. “The Rot Remains”: From Ruin to Ruination Imperial Debris: On Ruins and Ruination 1 38 Google Scholar

Warwick Research Collective (WReC; Sharae Deckard, Nicholas Lawrence, Neil Lazarus, Graeme Macdonald, Upamanyu Pablo Mukherjee, Benita Parry and Stephen Shapiro). Combined and Uneven Development: Towards a New Theory of World Literature. Liverpool: Liverpool UP, 2015. Google Scholar

Wasson, Sara and Emily Alder. ‘Introduction’. Gothic Science Fiction 1980–2010. Ed. Sara Wasson and Emily Alder. Liverpool: Liverpool UP, 2011. 1−16. Introduction Gothic Science Fiction 1980–2010 1 16 Google Scholar

Weller, Robert P. ‘Living at the Edge: Religion, Capitalism, and the End of the Nation-State in Taiwan’ . Public Culture 12.2 (2000): 477−98. Living at the Edge: Religion, Capitalism, and the End of the Nation-State in Taiwan Public Culture 12.2 477 98 Google Scholar

Wolpe, Harold. ‘Capitalism and Cheap Labour-Power in South Africa: from Segregation to Apartheid’, Economy and Society 1.4 (1972): 425−56. Capitalism and Cheap Labour-Power in South Africa: from Segregation to Apartheid Economy and Society 1.4 425 56 Google Scholar

If you have private access to this content, please log in with your username and password here

Details

Author details

Duncan, Rebecca