Paper presented at the 3rd Annual Qualitative Methods Conference: "Touch me I'm sick"
8 & 9 September 1997, University of South Africa Regional Office, Durban

How to beach without bumming:

The function of 'crowd' as a racist narrative

Sebastian Ruxton Potter &

Vaughan Myles Dutton

Psychology Department, University of Natal, Pietermaritzburg

[email protected] & [email protected]

The bathing area of any typical beach is clearly demarcated by means of 2 flags, prominently situated and in high profile, indicating to bathers where they are allowed to swim. Swimming beyond the flags elicits a shrill whistle from the lifeguards on duty, who are there to ensure that bathers remain within the cordon, for their own safety, of course. Whilst not in the water, beach goers' behaviour is subject to a different kind of cordon - a cordon which exists abstractly and often invisibly within the constructions of society. In this context the lifeguards, flags and whistles are not as obvious and their function may not always be to ensure safety. To elucidate these mechanisms we analyzed 48 beachfront-related articles appearing in the leading Durban newspapers, The Mercury and the Daily News, during the most popular beach season, from 1 December 1996 to 31 January 1997. Using a discourse analytic methodology, this paper aims at documenting the crowd as an exclusionary category.

Weird events occurring in the period under analysis

"The combined SAPS and city police force will be backed up by an 80 strong armed reaction force from 44 Parachute Battalion" Daily News 30/12 97

"While Durban's beaches were packed by up to 60 000 locals... many popular beachfront businesses chose to keep their doors shut ... and Joe Kools even had barbed wire placed around its main entrance [with] a security guard on duty" Daily News 26/12/96

Literature Review

Recent research attention has focused on the role played by the mass media in the social construction of reality. Specifically, researchers following the neo-Marxist tradition have explored how the contents of mass media portrayals of events reinforce dominant ideologies (Adoni & Mane, 1984). These ideologies serve the function of legitimising the social order and maintaining the social status quo (ibid). Following the constructionist framework of placing the source of knowledge in, what Gergen (1985) terms, 'the process of social interchange' (p266), recent researchers have focused on the function of media representations of events involving ethnic minorities. It has been found that coverage of ethnic minorities in the past has taken two forms: on the one hand the media has denied ethnic minorities coverage, for instance van Dijk (1992) notes how little mention is made of their contribution to the economy; whereas on the other hand the media has often served to highlight, most frequently, their 'problems' (Hartman & Husband, 1974, cited in Van Dijk, 1992). Thus blacks, for instance, have frequently been portrayed in the media as being 'dishonest', 'lazy', 'parasitic', 'problematic', and a threat to social order and stability (cited in Norman, 1996). In the South African setting, Norman (1996), found that the representation of black people in the local press was one of a violent, unreasonable, not to be trusted, racist and child- like nation. This negative portrayal of blacks, or put differently, this construction of 'typical' black behaviour as socially undesirable, served the all important function of maintaining apartheid domination, and legitimating its state control. In the new South Africa however, this negative portrayal is less explicit: deeper analysis is required to reveal it persistence. Thus the aim of this paper is to explore how this negative portrayal of blacks functions on the beachfront.


Using a discourse analytic method, 48 beachfront-related articles appearing in the leading Durban newspapers, The Daily News and the Mercury during the most popular beach season, from the 1st December 1996 to the 31st January 1997, were analyzed.

The research presented here arises out of previous contact the authors had with these articles while preparing a discursive analytic paper for a class seminar. Then, only news reports of the Durban beachfront on New Year's Day were analyzed. Based on this analysis, it was decided to expand the sample size and include the whole of December preceding- and January following-, New Year's Day.

Analysis and Discussion

The "Apartheid model"

In the Apartheid era, discourses of undesirability and discourses of race existed alongside one another and overlapped to a considerable extent. This overlap constituted racist meta-narratives (see Figure 1).

Thus, it was possible to construct race and undesirability simultaneou