The making and unmaking of social order: disorder, violence, trajectories

Date: Thursday, 26 May 2022

Time: 17:00

Venue: Senate Room, Solomon Mahlangu Building, 2nd Floor

Online registration: here

Enquiries: Kelebogile Tadi: | Kelebogile.Tadi


We are living in a society which is continuously being made and unmade, made and remade, in a dynamic, contested set of processes that generate confusions, disorder and confrontations – frequently violent. Thinking about this poses problems for sociology (and the social sciences more generally). We are trained to see the pattern in things, to try and discern their underlying structures and forces. We tend to be more comfortable with thinking through a frame of social structure and social order rather than rupture, confrontation, breakdown. Perhaps we need to rethink our categories and concepts, to destabilise them and remake them as well so that they are adequate to the task of understanding the world. In this lecture I reflect on the development of my thinking through 30 years of research on trade unions, communities, violence, corruption and the state, which has also been 30 years of activism to remake the world.


Karl von Holdt started his working life teaching literacy to trade union members in the hostels and informal settlements of Cape Town in the early 1980s. Before embarking on an academic career, he was the editor of the SA Labour Bulletin, coordinator of COSATU’s September Commission on the Future of Trade Unions (1996-97), was a director on the board of the SA Post Office, worked on a project at COSATU to transform the Chris Hani Baragwanath hospital, and was appointed to the first National Planning Commission (2010-15).

Karl von Holdt joined Wits University in 2007, and was appointed the Director of the Society Work and Politics Institute (SWOP) from 2011 until 2018. His two major current research projects focus on violence, and on popular politics across the Brics countries based on collaborations with sociologists from each of these countries. His books include Transition from below: forging trade unionism and workplace change in South Africa (2003), Beyond the apartheid workplace: studies in transition (2005) co-edited with Eddie Webster, and Conversations with Bourdieu: the Johannesburg moment (2012), co-authored with prominent US sociologist Michael Burawoy off. He was invited to present the AJ Orenstein Memorial Lecture at Wits Medical School, and has published numerous journal articles. He is currently a Professor at SWOP.