Interpretations of underdevelopment, legitimations of the racial order: The Holloway and Tomlinson commissions of inquiry

Pretorius, Louwrens
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Commissions of inquiry are, as Merton (1975) pointed out, both users and producers of sociological knowledge. Because commissions deal with political issues, their reports reveal some of the ways in which such knowledge is used for political purposes. In other words, their reports provide excellent material for the analysis of ideology. The concept "ideology" refers to more or less coherent sets of ideas, or modes of discourse, which serve "to sustain relations of domination" (Thompson 1984). Ideology operates in many ways. Of these, legitimation is probably the one which is most often implied when the concept is used. Another is the dissimulation of the interests which are served by the state, or some other political formation, and by the ideology itself. In this paper I shall attempt to show how (quasi-) scientifically excogitated ideas were used, by the two commissions identified in the title, to legitimate the racial order in South Africa. The main thrust of the argument is quite simple: Socio-cultural interpretations of social "problems" were used to justify a political order which is structured along racial lines, and to (at least) obscure the interests which benefit from racially based domination. This paper is not presented here because I pretend to any novel insights into the content of the "ruling ideology". We are all familiar with the central components of segregationist and apartheid ideology. I think, however, that the intensive analysis of ways in which ostensibly "scientific commissions" employ interpretations of social problems as "legitimation theories", is a relatively new theme on the agendas of South African social scientists. Recent publications focus on current "adaptations" in legitimating discourse (e.g. Buckland 1982, Stadler 1984). This paper will, I hope, at least contribute some historical perspective towards the study of current forms of "technisist" legitimating discourse(s). My own project entails studying the aetiology of the ruling ideology as it is reflected in commission reports. One component of the project is an attempt to understand the "argumentative structure of (ideological) discourse" (Thompson 1984, 136). It will become obvious, however, that my "method" does not have much in common with various forms of methodologically self-conscious discourse (and hermeneutical) analysis. In this regard I can only say that I try to understand the nature of the "legitimating theories" by looking at the relationships between the various components of the reports of different commissions which dealt with particular perennial issues in South African politics; and by reading the reports with reference to the historical contexts in which the commissions operated. (I have not yet given attention to the relationship between commission reports and the evidence and other types of information on which they are based).
African Studies Seminar series. Paper presented 11 August 1986
South Africa. Race relations