Professor Gail Super discusses the ‘blurry’ space between policing and collective punishment in South Africa in “U of T News”

Professor Gail Super was featured in U of T News for her research in the ‘blurry’ space between policing and collective punishment in South Africa. After receiving a SSHRC Insight Development Grant in 2018, Professor Super has been attempting to untangle complex factors affecting the landscape of law and justice in South Africa, such as inadequate policing and vigilantism, to learn how they relate to state formation. In the article, she states how the political and social system of white minority rule and racial segregation, enforced by colonialism and over 40 years of apartheid government, has had lasting effects. Professor Super describes how non-state policing continues to be the norm in South Africa and how residents in South Africa’s informal settlements experience extreme hardship, such as high rates of violence and crime, and scarcity of water and safety. Her research demonstrates that in this type of situation, making communities responsible for crime prevention can be dangerous. For her study, she is examining the arrest and trial of a popular community activist in Cape Town, who was accused of kidnapping, assaulting and killing two men believed by residents to have been involved in two incidents of rape and murder. The case ultimately demonstrates how constitutional principles, such as the right to bail, are distorted in practice and applied unevenly.

Professor Super is an Assistant Professor of Sociology with teaching responsibilities at the Mississauga campus. Her broader research program focuses on the political context of penal policy-making, specifically the role of crime and punishment in constituting authority and vice versa. She has published articles in a number of top journals, including The Law and Society Review; Punishment and Society;  and Theoretical Criminology. Her first book Governing through Crime in South Africa: The Politics of Race and Class in Neoliberalizing Regimes was published by Ashgate in 2013.

An excerpt of the article is included below (the full article can be found here).

“In these marginalized communities, there’s often an overlap between lawful forms of crime prevention, like neighbourhood watch groups, and unlawful forms of collective punishment. I’m interested in that blurry in-between space, and what it says about the levels of punitiveness in a democracy,” says Super, an assistant professor of sociology whose study, called “Precarious penality on the periphery: Crime prevention and punishment in South Africa’s informal settlements,” won a $10,000 Connaught Fund New Researcher Award last year.

South Africa is one of the world’s most unequal societies, says Super, a South African citizen who practised human rights law in Namibia. The effects of colonialism and more than 40 years of apartheid government, in which a political and social system of white minority rule and racial segregation was brutally enforced, have had lasting effects, felt well beyond the 1994 transition to formal democracy.

These effects include disproportionately high levels of unevenly distributed violent crime, poverty, and staggeringly high levels of unemployment.

Read the full story.

Professor Gail Super SSHRC-funded research studies “precarious penality on the periphery” – a study on crime and punishment in South Africa’s informal settlements

Professor Super’s study of crime prevention and punishment in informal (shack) settlements in South Africa seeks to shed light on the overlaps between lawful community-based crime prevention initiatives and unlawful forms of non-state punishment. The objectives of her research include researching the blurred boundaries between law, legitimacy and violence on the margins of the state; the seeming disjuncture between community level attitudes and the liberal values enshrined in the South African Constitution; and how the police and courts frame the  various forms of vigilantism that emerge in marginalized spaces.

South Africa provides an excellent site for analyzing the multiple relationships between state law and local forms of punitive justice because of its history of state toleration of informal policing and punishment. Professor Super uses the term “precarious penality” to depict an unstable, violent and exclusionary penality that manifests in contexts of socio-economic precarity. The illegal penal phenomena that are central to precarious penality are labile, ephemeral and unstable. They sometimes emerge out of lawful crime prevention initiatives, such as neighbourhood watches and, as such, are the point at which practices of crime prevention and punishment collapse into each other. In these contexts a generalized distrust of the state is coupled with a call for harsher punishments in order to solve a range of complex social problems.

Professor Super was awarded a SSHRC Insight Development Grant in 2018. With this funding Super will travel to South Africa to conduct interviews with residents in informal settlements, will analyze police data; and the records of criminal trials of “vigilantes”.  She will hire student research assistants to assist with analyzing the data.

Professor Super has extensive experience in conducting in depth semi-structured interviews with marginalized communities and in conducting archival research. Prior to becoming an Assistant Professor at the University of Toronto Mississauga, she was a human rights lawyer in Namibia, where she focused on children in police detention and prison. Her broader research program focuses on the political context of penal policy-making, specifically the role of crime and punishment in constituting authority and vice versa. She has published articles in a number of top journals, including The Law and Society Review; Punishment and Society;  and Theoretical Criminology. Her first book Governing through Crime in South Africa: The Politics of Race and Class in Neoliberalizing Regimes was published by Ashgate in 2013.

 

The UTM Office of Vice-Principal profiles Professor Gail Super

As part of their series, #MeetTheNewProfs, the UTM Office of the Vice-Principal, Academic and Dean has posted a profile of Professor Gail Super on their website.

Professor Gail Super joined the faculty at the University of Toronto Mississauga campus as an Assistant Professor of Sociology in 2017. Her research focuses on the  sociology of punishment, particularly the relationship between state and non-state actors involved in punishment.

We have reposted the profile here:

Gail Super

After spending her formative years in Africa, Gail Super has slowly migrated north and west. She earned a law degree in South Africa, and practised law in South Africa and Namibia before heading to the London School of Economics, where she earned a master’s degree in criminology. Then, it was on to New York City for a PhD in Law and Society at New York University. Last year, Super made the move across the 49th parallel to begin her academic career at UTM.

“I had long admired the work of my colleagues at UTM, so when I saw this job, I applied,” Super says. “It’s very demanding, but I really enjoy it.”

Within the field of law and society, Super’s real passion is punishment and society; her research focuses on how marginalized communities deal with issues of crime. She explores the ways punishment is defined and practised, both by the state and by the general population.

“In South Africa, for example, unless someone is killed, the state tolerates unofficial punishments such as beatings, but, suddenly, after a gruesome murder, the government will step in,” she says.

Super has received both a Connaught Foundation grant and a two-year grant from the Social Sciences & Humanities Research Council for her scholarship that examines lawful forms of crime prevention and unlawful forms of vigilante justice in informal (shack) settlements in South Africa. She spent a month this past summer in Cape Town conducting interviews for the project. Eventually, she plans to study and compare how marginalized communities in Canada deal with crime.

“It’s definitely research and writing that drives me, and I’m happy to be in a research-oriented department at UTM,” Super says.

The original, along with profiles of other new faculty to UTM, can be found here.

 

 

Professor Super obtained a law degree in South Africa, practiced law in South Africa and Namibia, and thereafter earned her master’s degree in criminology at the London School of Economics. She then headed to New York City for a PhD in Law and Society at New York University, and will now continue her career at UTM.

She has received a Connaught Foundation grant and a two-year grant from the Social Sciences & Humanities Research Council for her work, which examines lawful forms of crime prevention and unlawful forms of vigilante justice in informal (shack) settlements in South Africa. After spending this past summer in Cape Town conducting interviews for the project, she will continue her work in Canada to study and compare how marginalized communities in Canada deal with crime.

Welcome to our New Faculty

In 2017, we welcomed six new faculty members into the Department of Sociology. They cover a wide range of research and teaching areas that will both strengthen and broaden our department’s profile. Though housed across the three campuses, we welcome all of these new faculty members to join in our tri-campus intellectual community.

Dokshin, FedorProfessor Fedor Dokshin studies social movements and political behaviour with a focus on the role of organizations and social networks. He uses primarily quantitative and computational approaches. Recent research examines how emerging energy industries become politically contested and how this contestation might influence regulation and policymaking, the emergence of new industries, and the distribution of health and environmental risks.

 

Flores, JerryProfessor Jerry Flores  is an ethnographer who does research in the areas of intersectionality and crime, prison studies, Latina/o sociology and work on the school to prison pipeline. As a whole, his work investigates how race, class, gender, sexuality and other identities influence people’s trajectories through the educational and penal institutions. His new work will investigate issues related to mental health and policing, and the use of video ethnography.

Plys, KristinProfessor Kristin Plys’  research sits at the intersection of political economy, postcolonial theory, sociology of development, labour and labour movements, historical sociology, and global area studies. The greater part of her intellectual work analyses the historical trajectory of global capitalism as seen from working class and anti-colonial movements in the Global South. This research program has led her to take a particular interest in “Third World” political economy in the mid-20th century, shifts in the global trade balance between Early Modern Europe and Asia, and the theories of political economy that help to analyse these historical phenomena.

Jasmine RaultProfessor Jasmine Rault’s research focuses on sexuality, gender, race and ethnicity as axes of power, social change and aesthetic potentiality. Her work takes queer feminist approaches to architecture and design (both material and digital), online research ethics and economies, and questions of sexuality in transnational arts and social movements. She is currently working on the techno-social history of ‘openness’ since the late nineteenth century, and a collaborative project to reimagine online research, publishing and archiving protocols that prioritize decolonizing, trans- feminist, queer, Indigenous and Black methodologies.

Silver, MichelleProfessor Michelle Silver studies how cumulative life experiences influence health, well-being, and adaptation to later life course transitions. Her current work focuses on the relationship between work identity and retirement; perceptions about aging; embodiment, aging and resilience; and health information seeking behaviors. She is also interested in later life gender disparities in life expectancy and pensions.

 

Professor Gail Super’s research focuses on punishment, prisons, penal policy-making, popular punitivism, and penality. She is currently engaged in two projects which both explore aspects of crime prevention and punishment in marginalized informal (shack) settlements in Cape Town, South Africa – the one involves a court case where a community leader from an informal settlement is charged with committing a vigilante murder and, the other, an analysis of closed police dockets concerning violent forms of crime prevention and/or punishment in one of South Africa’s most densely populated poor black townships.