'Ontological gap' or political calculation? A critique of the tradition-modernity dichotomy in Mordechai Tamarkin's "Volk and Flock"


  • Natascha Visser Department of Historical Studies , University of Cape Town


This review essay interrogates the theoretical underpinning of Mordechai Tamarkin's recent volume on the anti-Scab Act movement in the Cape Colony during the 1890s. Tamarkin views the opponents of the Scab Act of 1894 as victims of modernity. Since the Act's opponents were mainly Afrikaans-speaking trek farmers, he casts what could have been persuasively analysed as a class conflict between mutton and wool farmers as an ethnic conflict. As a result, his text focuses on isolating aspects of a supposed trek farmer ethnic character. A number of 'traditional' characteristics are ascribed to trek farmers that supposedly contrast with the hegemonic progressive worldview. On closer analysis, these characteristics are ill defined and cannot be sufficiently historicised. It is argued here that Tamarkin essentially took the trek farmers' assertions of the Scab Act's expected impact at face value. The result is a theoretically unsophisticated analysis of Afrikaner intra-ethnic conflict mainly affecting the Afrikaner Bond. Real historiographical gaps in the environmental and economic history of the Cape Colony are not addressed.


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