Alcohol, flows and friction in Cape Town


Urban political ecologies have followed the flows of various materials such as waste, energy and fat through the city and how people and power shape these flows. Examing alcohol through this lens offers interesting insights for while often considered as a social lubricant alcohol can also, ironically, like fats be a \"sticky\" commodity. Alchol can resist flows as well as constricts the flows of material, people, and processes in the city. Building on fieldwork in Cape Town, this study uses the examples of waste and transportation to show how alcohol shapes the flows and stickiness of circulation. Specifically, I trace the flow of materials into the bottles, through the city's transportation system (much of which becomes \"invisible\" as it flows to unlicensed, illegal shebeens), and into specific bodies. One of the remnants of this flow is the waste left behind- bottles, cans, plastic from papsak- which individual shebeen owners, city solid waste teams, informal recyclers, and community members are left to re-move. Additionally, alcohol- visible in paper sacks, evident in smells or assumed in certain bodies- shapes the movement of people in the cities, particularly in the public transport systems. Alcohol in these cases is shown to provide friction- reducing people's willingness to move, or decreasing their comfort when doing so. These examples show the interrelationships between different flows, and how some seemingly fluid materials such as alcohol constrict circulation.


Lawhon, M. Alcohol, flows and friction in Cape Town. Presented at Association of American Geographers (AAG) annual meeting. (2012)

Published 1 January 2012