For most of the past 50 years, South Africa served as the outlier in sociological discussions of racial inequality: From the late 1940s, when most of the world was moving away from strict racial classification and segregation, apartheid provided social scientists with their most extreme example of the dynamics of racial segregation and exclusion.Yet while apartheid South Africa was unique, social scientists have also used it in comparative studies to explore the underlying dynamics of racial capitalism: Insights from South Africa have offered sociologists new ways to think about migrant labor; the construction of ethnicity; racial exclusion and colonial relationships; relationships between business, white workers and capitalist states; and oppositional social movements. With the end of legal apartheid, South Africa is poised to move into a new position in the annals of social science. From being an outlier, it is increasingly used an an exemplar, in discussions of democratic transitions, development strategies and globalization, and post-colonial transformations. Still to come, perhaps, are comparative studies that draw on insights from other parts of the world to re-examine aspects of South African society that have been left relatively unexplored—ironically including issues around racial identities and changing patterns of race relations as South Africa constructs a new non-racial democracy.

Keyword(s): democratizationdevelopmentrace

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  • Article Type: Review Article
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