Journal for Emerging Affect Inquiry
Image: District Six in Cape Town, 2019

A Pedagogy of Hauntology: Decolonizing the Curriculum With GIS

Michalinos Zembylas, Vivienne Bozalek, and Siddique Motala
Open University of Cyprus, University of the Western Cape, Cape Peninsula University of Technology
First online: January 4, 2020


This paper explores how a pedagogy of hauntology might be enacted in a higher education curriculum, taking into account the ghosts of South Africa’s apartheid and colonial past. To do so, the paper focuses on the ways in which Geographic Information Systems (GIS) mapping and analysis reveal the absent/presences of the there/then, here/now and the effects of the past/present on people’s lives and the land. Situated in engineering education in a South African university of technology, the paper shows that GIS can be used to animate hitherto occluded injustices of the past by means of a micro-instance of activism in the form of a storytelling intervention. By telling the story of apartheid violence related to District Six in Cape Town through the lens of GIS, we demonstrate how the affectivity and materiality of forced removals and violent dispossession become revivified through useful pedagogical concepts such as sensibility towards nonlinear time, in/determinacy and dis/continuity to address the specters of the past/present.


decolonization, land, Geographic Information Systems, forced removals, affectivity, materiality, pedagogy, curriculum, hauntology, cartography


One story that I tell in my GIS class is the story of District Six. The Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT) has recently renamed its Cape Town campus the District Six campus, because the campus is situated on the site of District Six, possibly the most iconic site of Apartheid’s violent dispossession and forced removals. Whilst teaching on the campus, I asked myself a simple question: what was here before? What ghosts haunt this place? I then realized that I could answer these questions using the technology that I teach. What follows is one of many stories that have been iteratively co-produced by an assemblage of (amongst other things) students, myself, and GIS technology. A version of the story I tell can be viewed here. (Siddique, Instructor of GIS)

District Six was a densely populated, inner-city working class area that was inhabited by a diverse, multi-racial group of people. It was a melting pot of slaves, immigrants, merchants, artisans, gangsters, and professionals; it was a testimony to the strength of diversity, and was targeted by the racist National Party government who destroyed the neighborhood and forcibly removed the inhabitants to far-flung apartheid ghettos on the Cape Flats. The forced removals started in 1968, and by the mid-1980s, the diverse, vibrant community of District Six was silenced.

The exploration of District Six, sometimes considered to be a ‘void,’ in that it appears to be an empty expanse of land from which people were forcibly removed, constitutes a study of ‘haunting,’ where the memory of sedimented tracings are written into the world. The ghosts which linger in District Six exert an impact on everyday life of those who traverse this territory in the center of Cape Town, impacting the taken-for-granted realities of the past, present and future of the city. These ghosts, which are not simply dead people, but which appear in the shape of new and old buildings, and natural environments, survive and challenge the present transformed landscape.

Long before legalized apartheid was instituted, dispossession of land from indigenous populations and systematic exploitation began with the colonial wars of conquest by the Dutch and British colonists from the seventeenth century onwards.1 Blacks were forced off their land, charged taxes on their property and forced to become a cheap labor force serving the needs of the colonists. Buttressed by apartheid legislation, the nationalist party government was responsible for approximately 3.5 million people being forcibly removed from their land and hundreds of thousands from their houses.

In 1994 the multiple legacies of forced removals were still in place. The first attempt to recreate and transform South Africa and reverse major aspects of dispossession and dehumanization is set out in the Constitution. It confirms the right to equality in including the right to own land anywhere in the country. In Section 25 it defines and requires redistribution, restitution, and security of tenure.

South Africa has made little progress in any aspect of redressing the legacy of dispossession. Despite billions of rands that have been spent there is very little to be shown in terms of the real transformation of the land ownership regime. South Africa’s land question is not going to go away soon.

As higher education instructors, we often wonder how to approach pedagogically the ‘difficult’ issue of forced removals and the ghosts of South Africa’s apartheid and colonial past. How can we teach about/learn from “ghostly matters” (Gordon 2008) and the ghosts of the past/present (Derrida 1994; Young 2006) in a manner that shows a sensibility toward this haunting and does not wash out or make invisible the very real questions of land, settlement, and occupation (Tuck and Yang 2012)? What pedagogical practices constitute “learning to live with ghosts” (Derrida 1994, xviii) in a society such as South Africa, which is still haunted by the spatialized and racialized violences of forced relocations and land dispossession? And, to move a step further, in which ways can we engage in decolonizing education within the colonizing university (la paperson 2017)? These questions drive our exploration in this paper.

In particular, we explore how a pedagogy of hauntology may be enacted in a higher education curriculum, taking into account the ghosts of South Africa’s apartheid and colonial past. Jacques Derrida (1994) coined the word “hauntology,” a play on the word ‘ontology’ which sounds like hauntology in French. Derrida’s hauntology is premised on an indeterminate relationship between then and now, present and absent, being and non-being. Discussing “hauntology” in Specters of Marx, Derrida (1994) understands it as an ongoing conversation with the ghosts of the past; the aim of this conversation is to invent a different future rather than fixing the past. In Derrida’s case, hauntology particularly addresses the specters of communism that haunt Europe, but he suggests that haunting actually belongs to the structure of every hegemony. In the case of District Six, hauntology addresses the ghosts of apartheid, colonialism, racism, and oppression that are brought forth by the geomatics mapping and analysis that is put to use in the GIS course. These ghosts are not necessarily people, but also streets, public amenities, and houses. They constitute humans and non-humans alike- haunting is material(ist).

But haunting is not only material(ist), it is also embodied and works as an affective operation. Embodied hauntologies (Gordon 2008) work with atmospheres, traces, fragments, contagions, gaps, absences and displaced actors and agencies that register affectively (Blackman 2015, 2019). Affect is disclosed in these fleeting fragments, traces, and embodied reactions and in felt intensities and sensations (Seigworth and Gregg 2010), which are not accessible to conscious control or reason (Blackman 2019). The storytelling intervention with which we experiment in this paper works as an affective contiguous process that is performed and modulated with GIS. The affective encounter is a force exerted upon the students that exceeds discrete bounded individuated human bodies (Blackman 2019). In this sense, the story of District Six through the lens of GIS produces moments of haunting, felt as contagious presences/absences of the effects of forced removals.

In this paper, we argue for the importance of radically rethinking “unilinear time”—that is, “the continuous unfolding of the past into the future” (Barad 2017, 22). We do this through a pedagogy of hauntology in order not only to recognize the affectivity and materiality of forced removals, but also to potentiate ways of taking responsibility for the living presence of apartheid ghosts. Situated in engineering education in a South African university of technology, this paper explores how the curriculum can be used to animate occluded injustices of the past by means of a micro-instance of activism in the form of a storytelling intervention. By telling the story of apartheid violence related to District Six in Cape Town through the lens of GIS, we show how sensibility towards nonlinear time, in/determinacy and dis/continuity are useful to address the specters of the past/present.

Siddique’s story

This is a story of maps and of ghosts. Ghosts of the living, of the dead, and of those yet to be. South Africa has a long history of contestation. During colonial times and apartheid, indigenous and other people were forcibly moved around the country at the will of the racist government.

Acts like the Natives Land Act 1913, the Native Trust and Land Act 1936, the Asiatic Land Tenure, and Indian Representation Act 1946 were precursors to the Group Areas Act 1950, The Prevention of Illegal Squatting Act 1951, and The Natives Resettlement 1954. These Acts, including the Group Areas Act were proposed, conceived and systematized by maps.

For example, the map in Figure 1, entitled “the Model Apartheid City” provided guidelines on how to segregate cities and towns across the country. Note how the primary factor that determined location was race. White group areas were separated from all other group areas by means of barriers such as railway lines or industrial areas. The plan was effectively and violently implemented, and we are still haunted by this map today.

Figure 1. The model Apartheid city (Source: Christopher, 1994: 107)

Figure 1. The model Apartheid city (Source: Christopher, 1994: 107)

The destruction of District Six was a direct result of such maps. GIS technology can help to produce an analysis of the old District Six and its relation to the present. I want to take a trip through time using maps of District Six and focus on our campus.

Here is a map showing a recent aerial image of the site. The red line is the outline of the old District Six, which was declared a Whites-only area in 1966.

Figure 2. District Six, 2011

Figure 2. District Six, 2011

Right in the middle of the site is CPUT. Let’s zoom in to our campus:

Figure 3. CPUT campus, 2011.

Figure 3. CPUT campus, 2011

Now let’s go back to various epochs, starting at 1862:

Figure 4. District Six detail, 1862

Figure 4. District Six detail, 1862

About half of the area was empty land. The label on the map calls the area Kanala Dorp. Kanala is a Malay word meaning ‘help one another’. In 1867, it was named the sixth district of Cape Town, or District Six.

Next, let’s go to an aerial image of 1926:

Figure 5. District Six detail, 1926

Figure 5. District Six detail, 1926

This is the oldest aerial image we have of District Six. At the time, the government leaders were Jan Smuts and General JBM Hertzog. In the decade before this picture, the infamous Natives Land Act was implemented in 1913. This was the Act that had perhaps the most profound effect on Black South Africa. With it, the catastrophic mass forced migration of race groups started. Sol Plaatje criticized the Natives Land Act and identified the parallels between natives and animals. He said this in 1914:

In addition to these native duties and taxes, it is also part of “the black man’s burden” to pay all duties levied by the favoured race. With the increasing difficulty of finding openings to earn the money for paying these multifarious taxes, the dumb pack-ox, being inarticulate in the Councils of State, has no means of making known to its ‘keeper’ that the burden is straining its back to breaking point (Plaatje 1914, 19).

The yellow line on the map (Figure 5) is Horstley Street, an important street in the history of District Six. In the early 1900s, the White population was concerned by the growing Black population in Cape Town, and proposed a need for a Black location. District Six contained many African dock workers who wanted cheap accommodation, and Horstley Street landlords willingly catered for this demand, packing large numbers of people into little houses. In February 1901, the plague broke out, and the Black residents of Horstley Street were quickly blamed for being the source of the infection. This paved the way for the first forced removals from District Six. They were made to move to Ndabeni, Cape Town’s first Black township. It was later found that the plague was caused by Argentinian fodder that was imported for horses during the Boer War.

Here is a picture of what Horstley Street looked like:

Figure 6. Historical Horstley Street

Figure 6. Historical Horstley Street

And here is a picture of the remains of Horstley Street today, just behind CPUT campus:

Figure 7. Horstley Street today.

Figure 7. Horstley Street today

The remains of Horstley Street sit in a state of limbo, surrounded by bush growing on the rubble of the houses that were demolished over 40 years ago. In modern Cape Town, there is a co-presence of multiple time zones.

Let’s continue. Here is the aerial image from 1945, just after World War II:

Figure 8. District Six detail, 1945

Figure 8. District Six detail, 1945

South Africa was called the Union of South Africa, and in 1948 the Afrikaner-dominated National Party led by DF Malan, was in power. In the 1940s, the Cape Town municipality had started to make plans to demolish houses in District Six under slum clearance. It was around this time that Cissie Gool served on the Cape Town city council. A woman ahead of her time, she was called Cape Town’s Joan of Arc. She was the first Black woman in the country to serve in local government, and represented District Six in the 1930s, 40s, and 50s. This was remarkable, considering that this was during a time when she did not have the right to vote. In 1962, she received an LLB degree, becoming the first woman of color at the Cape Bar.

Let’s go to 1953:

Figure 9. District Six detail, 1953.

Figure 9. District Six detail, 1953

As you can see in Figure 9, District Six was fully built. In 1953, the residents of District Six did not know what was about to hit them. Some of the most repressive apartheid laws were promulgated in the 1950s, such as the Group Areas Act 1950, the Natives Resettlement Act 1954 and the Reservation of Separate Amenities Act 1953. By means of the Population Registration Act 1950, new identities were imposed upon people. People were now officially ‘White,’ ‘Native,’ or ‘Colored.’

The next aerial image is from 1968:

Figure 10. District Six detail, 1968

Figure 10. District Six detail, 1968

In 1966, the government declared District Six a whites only area under the Group Areas Act, with the removals starting in 1968. In Figure 10 you can see that most of District Six is intact, apart from the western section which shows where some of the first demolitions and forced removals happened. This was the block bounded by Caledon, DeVilliers, Stone, and Clifton Streets. If I show the current map in relation to the 1968 map (Figure 11), you can see that this block correlates to the location of the Engineering building of CPUT.

Figure 11. District Six detail, 2011 (top) over District Six map, 1968 (bottom)

Figure 11. District Six detail, 2011 (top) over District Six map, 1968 (bottom)

Our building is situated at the epicenter of the destruction.

The Extension of University Education Act No. 45 of 1959 banned Black students from attending White universities. The Cape Technical college was formed for White students, and the Peninsula Technical College for Colored students. These would later go on to become Cape Technikon and Peninsula Technikon. In the 1990s, they would merge to form CPUT.

Other highlights (or lowlights) from the 1960s: The African National Congress (ANC) and Pan Africanist Congress (PAC) are banned. Robben Island was turned into a prison. In 1962, Abdullah Ibrahim, or Dollar Brand, the famous jazz musician from District Six, went into exile in Europe because of government harassment.

Now let’s go to 1977 (see Figure 12):

Figure 12. District Six detail, 1977

Figure 12. District Six detail, 1977

By the late 1970s, the destruction of District Six was in full effect. You can see many of the buildings in the western section are gone.

What else happened in the 1970s? The 1970 Bantu Homelands Citizenship Act stripped Blacks of their South African Citizenship, and in 1977, the homelands of Transkei, Bophuthatswana, Venda, and Ciskei gained so-called independence or self-government. Black people were then removed from urban centers such as Cape Town, to the homelands on a large scale. Their movement was curtailed and policed by means of the pass laws. Blacks were made to carry the despised pass books when travelling outside the homelands. Hundreds of thousands of people per year were arrested for pass law offences. White youths were now forced to do 2 years of military service. In 1978, P.W. Botha replaced John Voster as Prime Minister. In addition, 1978 was international anti-apartheid year.

A year before, Steve Biko was murdered in police detention. In 1970, he said:

Celebrated achievements by whites in the field of science – which he understands only hazily – serve to make him rather convinced of the futility of resistance and to throw away any hopes that change may ever come. All in all the black man has become a shell, a shadow of man, completely defeated, drowning in his own misery, a slave, an ox bearing the yoke of oppression with sheepish timidity (Biko 2004, 31).

Like Sol Plaatje over 50 years before, Biko drew parallels between Black bodies and animals. Both Biko and Plaatje troubled the binary between civilized colonizer/primitive native.

Let’s go further, to 1983 (see Figure 13):

Figure 13. District Six detail, 1983

Figure 13. District Six detail, 1983

In 1983, the full force of the destruction can be observed. District Six was demolished, and by this time more than sixty thousand people were forcibly removed.
It looks like a war zone.

Notice that there were only a few buildings left standing, these were mainly churches and mosques. Ellesmere Street Mosque, the Moravian Chapel and St Marks church are all still standing on our campus. Cape Technikon, a Whites-only institution, was built shortly after this image was taken, and the first buildings appeared in 1986.

Now let’s go to 2011 (see Figure 14):

Figure 14. District Six historical sites over 2011 imagery

Figure 14. District Six historical sites over 2011 imagery

If I show a layer of the old District Six sites, we can work out where they were in relation to where we are today. On our campus is the location of important sites like the Hanover building, the Little Wonder Shop, the Taj Restaurant, the Post Office, the Fish Market, the Star Cinema, the Public Wash House and perhaps the most iconic site of District Six, the Seven Steps. It was situated at the corner of Hanover Lane and Hanover Street. It was the very heart of District Six, and right now, its location is near an entrance to the administrative building.

The land of District Six would be surveyed and re-surveyed by White surveying students at Cape Technikon, and then later by racially diverse groups at CPUT. Many surveying students would pay close attention to the scientific method of surveying the land, but the significance of the land itself would escape them. The Apartheid state was particularly effective at silencing voices.

This is only one story of the place that people came to know as District Six, and the university that came to be known as CPUT. CPUT can be seen as it is now, sitting at the foot of Table Mountain. Or, if we look close enough, we can sense the ghosts of this place. We must not ignore the ghosts of the past, as we make maps of the present. In our cartographies, what gestures are we making to the ghosts of the future?

Hauntology and temporal diffraction

Siddique’s story of District Six and CPUT can be seen as a hauntological tale of temporal diffraction. Looking at the campus of CPUT today, the sedimented remnants of District Six, which appear not to be there, only become visible through a temporal diffraction, where the past is not something which is left behind, but exists in the present— where temporalities are entangled and thickly threaded through one another. Temporal diffraction means that as a result of the energy-time indeterminacy principle, a given particle can be in a state of superposition at different times – thus one particle can materially co-exist in multiple spaces and times—here and there, and yesterday, today and tomorrow (Barad 2017).

Temporal diffraction is made possible with Siddique’s use of geomatics mapping tools. These make evident the ghostly presences of roads, buildings, and cultural activities of District Six upon which the White campus of Cape Technikon was built. These techniques are used to animate and make visible the organized systemic violence perpetrated over an extended period through apartheid laws, which would otherwise be occluded. The geomatics mapping shows how apartheid laws and social structures continue to bleed into the presence of life on the CPUT campus. In this way, geomatics tools usefully reveal temporal diffraction. As Karen Barad (2017) notes, hauntings are not just subjective human experiences, where a recollection of the past makes itself present in a subjective way. Quantum field theory allows us to understand how hauntings are lively indeterminacies of time-being, materially constitutive of matter itself, showing the “dynamism of ontological indeterminacy of time-being, being-time in its materiality” (Barad 2017, G113). The geomatics mapping makes it possible to apprehend the materiality of organized and systematic colonial and apartheid forces, revealing the systemic destruction of buildings and social fabric which appear removed from human vision in current times.

Furthermore, Siddique’s storytelling intervention provides a cartography of District Six through its material and affective presence and endurance within a haunted crafted political space. In this sense, it is a study of a ‘haunting.’ The ghosts that linger in District Six exert a force on Siddique’s students as well as on all who listen to the story, and on the visual mapping against the grain of what this territory looks like today. These ghosts, in the shape of old buildings and natural environments, survive and challenge the present transformed landscape. As Gordon notes: “[t]he ghost is not simply a dead or a missing person, but a social figure, and investigating it can lead to that dense site where history and subjectivity make social life” (2008, 8). In this case, the abusive laws of the apartheid machinery, and their impacts on the human, the non-human and the more-than-human are revealed through the deployment of cartography. In the context of critical posthumanism, “cartography is a theoretically-based and politically-informed reading of the present” (Braidotti 2002, 2).

Thus, overlaying the terrain in District Six through GIS mapping shows important apartheid processes of destruction with its organized violence perpetuated on the land, the buildings, and the humans. This has a profound effect on those that hear the story, such as the students and audiences where Siddique tells the story. People often cry when hearing it, particularly those whose family members were forcibly removed from the area. The affects also travel with the YouTube video now available online. The concrete material and affective affordances of GIS mapping allows students and other audiences to apprehend that humans were living and doing things in this space. It also illuminates how the concrete and material space where students are studying can be regarded anew with a hauntological understanding of what has happened and what may happen in the future. The GIS mapping invites “a renewed focus on registers and modalities of attending to the world that exceed conscious rational thought, or that exist at the edge of consciousness” (Blackman 2019, ix).

District Six hauntings, then, may be seen as lively indeterminacies of time-being, materially constitutive of matter itself—indeed, of everything and nothing. In this sense, hauntings are “not mere rememberings of a past (assumed to be) left behind (in actuality) but rather the dynamism of ontological indeterminacy of time-being/being-time in its materiality” (Barad 2017, G113). The cartographic tools used by Siddique are helpful in that they show that hauntings are physical material-discursive marks sedimented on the land, as part of “spacetimemattering,” and which have potent affective force (Barad 2017, 179). The way that Siddique uses geomatics mapping in the classroom helps to show how space, time, and matter are not external determinate givens, but are bound up with each other, being produced in the phenomenon of District Six. The spatio-temporal mappings reveal how the material arrangements of District Six and the CPUT campus extend across time and are mutually enfolded with each other, iteratively reconfiguring each other.

We would argue, then, that the affective potential of technologies like GIS is harnessed in/through a pedagogy of hauntology. A pedagogy of hauntology works as an affective contiguous process that is performed and modulated within GIS techniques. In the many affective iterations of the District Six story, anger, sadness, and confusion contribute to an interrogation of the role of surveying and mapping in the furthering of apartheid. Being able to come to terms with, and disidentify from, certain aspects of the colonial past is important in the process of becoming.

GIS mapping need not be “cartographic, positivist, imperialist” (McKittrick 2006, xiii). In its affordances of looking at space hauntologically, GIS produces a new vantage point for material-discursive imaginings for the students and those who see Siddique’s presentations and YouTube video on District Six – the past-present-future space and its meaning. What appears to be fixed and settled infrastructure of the university is actually shifting and uneven, sitting on a highly contested site, the history of which has been erased. The university and its Engineering Building are located on the ruins of apartheid demolition of District Six and the displacement of human beings.

Through the lenses of a hauntological approach in District Six, Siddique proposes a reconceptualization of District Six ghosts that are material, as well as affective and exist in, through, and beyond non-human, human, and more-than-human subject/objects. Rather than standing as representations of something or someone that was destroyed and disappeared, District Six ghosts are retained in the material and affective subjects/objects and the physical environment in the aftermath of forced relocations. The ghosts of District Six are phenomena and affects, the material objects, the land, the roads, the buildings, the violence, the loss, and the pain. It is the presence of such ghosts in the shape of material objects, affects and land in District Six that formulates Siddique’s pedagogical methodology.

As pedagogic methodology, hauntology reframes histories of loss and absence and uses them as points of departure to revivify or bring back to life the complex materialities and affects that emerge from haunting. We would argue, then, that this methodology provides openings for renewed pedagogical engagements with entanglements of responsibility and justice in higher education. This methodology is what we would call a pedagogy of hauntology, that is, a pedagogy which interrogates narratives that offer closure or erasure and instead underscores the importance of the ethico-onto-epistemological openings created by ontological in/determinacy of time/being, where the past is not left behind but is diffracted through the present and the future. A pedagogy of hauntology is one which engages in the intensive labor of paying close and careful attention and responding to the lively materiality of ghosts of colonialism and apartheid. What we think is past and forgotten is revealed as a forceful presence affecting everyday life. In the last part of the essay, we discuss how a pedagogy of hauntology might make a contribution to the ongoing process of decolonizing higher education.

Decolonizing higher education: The contribution of a pedagogy of hauntology

In their influential essay “Decolonization is Not a Metaphor,” Tuck and Yang (2012) argue that decolonization brings about real questions of land, settlement, and occupation. Land, according to Barad, “is not a property or territory; it is a time-being marked by its own wounds and vitality, a layered material geo-neuro-bio-graphy of bones and bodies, ashes and earth, where death and life meet” (2018, 238).

“To understand the possibilities for a decolonizing university,” then, adds la paperson, “we must begin with a discussion of colonialism and its technologies at the material and affective level,“to settle, to self-sustain, to seduce, and to school” (2017, xxii). Settler colonialism is a set of technologies, says la paperson (2017), that reappropriate land and remake bodies and affects. If land is the prime concern of settler colonialism, then land as a biopolitical target is also the prime concern of decolonization. A decolonizing university, therefore:

is not just about decolonizing the “representational” work of knowledge production that we associate with universities […] It is about the steam and pistons, the waterworks, the groundworks, the investments, the emplacements, the institutional-governmental-capitalist rhizomatics of the university (la paperson 2017, 32).

The question, then, is, what can we do, as higher education instructors, to expose the materiality and affectivity of a colonial university–the ruins, traces, fragments, gaps, absences and displaced actors and agencies that register affectively?

Siddique’s storytelling intervention in the GIS class aims to make visible the coloniality of apartheid through a hauntological approach, using the tools of his profession that bring to the surface the affectivity and materiality of the forced relocations in District Six which has been rendered invisible through dis/continuous chronological periods. The geomatics tools show how these dis/continuous periods (then and now) can be seen to bleed through each other by tracing and re/turning the ghosts of the apartheid machinery which used abusive systems of power and organized forces to destroy property, land, and people’s lives. The marks on the land which are revealed through the techniques are situated on the very location that students were studying engineering – they are “ghostly non/existence” in multiple places at the same time (there/here, then/now) (Barad 2018, 231). This alerts students to the ghostly matters of apartheid, and to the effects of the colonial past on the people and the land of District Six. As Barad says, “The past is not closed . . . ‘past’ and ‘future’ are iteratively reconfigured and enfolded through the world’s intra-activity” (2010, 261).

In this sense, Siddique’s storytelling intervention performs a sort of an epistemic disobedience to normative expectations in higher education institutions, particularly in such fields as engineering. GIS within the frame of a pedagogy of hauntology troubles and queers the colonial approach which renders Whites as the normative ontological, epistemological, and ethical category and directs our attention toward ‘that’ which has been muted or rendered passive by coloniality. Hauntology can inspire and support decolonization processes at the university level by showing how temporalities and spaces are entangled and threaded through one another and how these matter.

We would, therefore, argue that interventions which are grounded in a hauntological decolonizing pedagogy within the colonizing university entail two important principles:

1) An emphasis on revealing the absent/presences of the there/then, here/now and the effects of the past/present/future on people’s lives and the environment;

2) A curricular emphasis on identifying and challenging the affective investments that underlie varied responses toward coloniality—by students and instructors alike.

A hauntological decolonizing pedagogy does not only make subjugated knowledges key points of reference in the curriculum, while troubling how Eurocentric supremacy continues to inform what legitimate knowledge is. It is also attentive to questions of how presences/absences have materialized. It emphasizes the need to mobilize new tools that expose the ongoing sufferings as a result of coloniality. More importantly, a hauntological decolonizing pedagogy is attentive to how questions of presences/absences have materialized, and it emphasizes the need to mobilize new tools that expose the ongoing sufferings as a result of coloniality. Time, space, and pedagogy are troubled and queered by the re/turning of matter, place, people and events, rather than simply being revisited. From this perspective, the relationship between affect and social justice in the context of hauntological decolonizing pedagogy is not simply about the creation of affective connections and openings that acknowledge suffering. Complicity to coloniality has to be recognized and become part of a pedagogy that exposes the absent/presences of the there/then here/now and the effects of the past/present on people’s lives and the environment (Zembylas 2019).

Furthermore, the contribution of a hauntological decolonizing pedagogy is that it recognizes the affective complexities of engaging with the ghosts of the past/present. Consequently, it is not driven by a naïve perception that sentimentalizes this engagement or idealizes resistance (Zembylas 2016). On the contrary, a hauntological decolonizing pedagogy acknowledges that there are no uncontaminated spaces of resistance and that any resistance has to take place within the available structures of power. This implies that a hauntological decolonizing pedagogy exceeds humanistic frameworks, discourses, and practices by bringing into the pedagogical, ethical, and political spaces of learning the entanglement of human and more-than-human (Zembylas 2018). This pedagogical approach can alter the possibilities of promoting social justice agendas, precisely because it generates spaces for contesting social inequalities and provide openings for new political claims that do not naturalize the past or the present, but see it as “getting ready to speak at length about ghosts, inheritance, and generations, generations of ghosts” (Derrida 1994, xix).


The District Six story utilizes the power of genealogy to relate students’ embedded locations in the socio-political system. It traces entanglements of land, politics, and race. Through the story students are invited to inhabit the university campus and the city of Cape Town differently yet are all connected to it by virtue of shared timespace. Furthermore, students are aware that the story is a result of peer involvement on the site of District Six over years. Their intra-actions with the land are an iterative project which engenders a retelling of the story – a collaborative effort across time, inspired by ghosts. An example of student involvement is the calculation of the positions of important destroyed buildings, and then the physical marking out of the locations on the ground. They see the site differently by engaging with the ghostly absent/present buildings.

Historical mapping and spatio-temporal GIS analysis brings the past into the present in a tangible, material sense. Students whose families were affected by the forced removals of District Six are direct products of District Six, and are re-connected to their past. This story facilitates hauntological encounters across difference.

The process of epistemic delinking from colonial epistemologies and pedagogical practices is not a simple intellectual project in higher education, a mere deconstruction of terminologies that replace colonial with postcolonial/decolonial terms and discourses, but rather a delinking from a deeply embedded western-centric, colonial epistemological and ontological frame (Mignolo 2011). For this to happen in higher education, we need all the inspiration and support we can get from decolonial and hauntological approaches.


1. Compared to the North American or other contexts where it is considered normal to capitalize the word ‘indigenous’, here it is not capitalized because it is uncommon to do so in the S. African context.

This work is based on the research supported in part by the National Research Foundation of South Africa (Grant Numbers: 105851)


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