Winner Africa Thesis Award 2017: Adriaan Steyn: A new laager for a ‘new’ South Africa: Afrikaans film and the imagined boundaries of Afrikanerdom

Price winner Adriaan Steyn with the chair of the juryThe winner of the Africa Thesis Award 2017 is Adriaan Steyn for his thesis A new laager for a ‘new’ South Africa: Afrikaans film and the imagined boundaries of Afrikanerdom. Adriaan Steyn completed an MA in Social Anthropology in the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences at Stellenbosch University (South Africa) in June 2016. The prize has been presented to Adriaan at the LeidenASA Annual Meeting on 7 December 2017.


Read the full text of the thesis (pdf)
Read the press release (pdf, in Dutch)
Read the jury report (pdf)


The Afrikaans film industry came into existence in 1916, with the commercial release of De Voortrekkers (Shaw), and, after 1948, flourished under the guardianship of the National Party. South Africa’s democratic transition, however, seemed to announce the death of the Afrikaans film. In 1998, the industry entered a nine-year slump during which not a single Afrikaans film was released on the commercial circuit. Yet, in 2007, the industry was revived and has been expanding rapidly ever since. This study is an attempt to explain the Afrikaans film industry’s recent success and also to consider some of its consequences. To do this, Adriaan Steyn situates the Afrikaans film industry within a larger - and equally flourishing - Afrikaans culture industry. He argues that the Afrikaans language’s uncoupling from the state has shifted the preservation and promotion of the language into market-driven domains. Steyn shows that Afrikaans-language media and cultural commodities - like film - are mostly tailored to and consumed by white Afrikaans-speakers. And he asks: if a “distinct” Afrikaner identity was first forged within the cultural sphere, through cultural rituals and through the consumption of Afrikaans media forms, what kind of subjectivities are, in the present moment, being produced by the Afrikaans culture industry? Specifically, he considers the ways in which the Afrikaans culture industry is reifying social life, how it is reaffirming the imagined boundaries of Afrikanerdom, and how, through the consumption of its products, Afrikaners can imagine - or re-imagine - themselves as members of the same collectivity or laager.

About Adriaan Steyn

Adriaan Steyn was born and raised in South Africa. He received his BA degree from Stellenbosch University in Political Science, Philosophy and Economics (2012). He also received his honours (2013) and MA degree (2016) from Stellenbosch University in Social Anthropology. For his honours thesis, he conducted ethnographic fieldwork among long haul truck drivers in southern Africa, focusing on their perceptions of work and their relationship with time. His MA thesis dealt with the expansion of the Afrikaans film industry in recent years, and its implications for the formation of postapartheid Afrikaner subjectivities. Currently, he is a PhD student in Harvard University’s African and African American Studies, and Anthropology Departments. His research is on crime and policing, and its impact on community formation in postapartheid South Africa.


This year we received 47 theses submitted for the Award. The jury would also like to make a special mention of the runners-up:

Iris Poelen (Radboud Universiteit Nijmegen, second place) for her thesis Uncertainties shaping lives in the airborne Afro-European migration flow. An ethnographic study on comfort-seeking of West African migrant women in Italy (read the full text, pdf).

Fenna Hoefsloot (Universiteit van Amsterdam, third place) for her thesis ‘The good land is there where the flood is’. The role of structures and imaginaries in shaping migration decisions in a context of environmental risks in Chokwe, Mozambique (read the full text, pdf).

The jury

The ASCL wishes to thank the jury of the Africa Thesis Award 2017 for the careful reading of all theses and their well-thought-through final decision:

Dr Ir Yves van Leynseele (University of Amsterdam) (chair)
Dr Akinyinka Akinyoade (African Studies Centre Leiden)
Drs Wim Brummelman (journalist NRC)
Ms. Likoko Eunice (PhD fellow, University of Amsterdam)
Dr Karin Nijenhuis (African Studies Centre Leiden)