Grassroots Literacy and the Written Record: A Textual History of Asbestos Activism in South Africa

Author: John Trimbur

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This book examines how asbestos activists living in remote rural villages in South Africa activated metropolitan resources of representation at the grassroots level in a quest for justice and restitution for the catastrophic effects on their lives caused by the asbestos industry. It follows the Asbestos Interest Group (AIG) over a fifteen-year period through its involvement in grassroots research, in legal cases and in the compensation systems for asbestos-related disease. It examines how the AIG became grassroots technicians of translocal paperwork, moving texts back and forth between periphery and center, pushing documents through the textual mazeways of the courts, medical institutions, the compensation system and various government agencies. The book addresses rhetorical mobility and the extent to which, given the AIG's position on the periphery, it has been able to enter the voices and interests of villagers into formerly inaccessible forums of deliberation and decision-making.

Trimbur demonstrates the transformative power of grassroots literacy in mobilizing the poor and resisting big industries. He merges activism with analytical rigor – adopting a creative style layered with the personal, narrative, and theoretically nuanced – to leave us with a text that will inspire us for similar forms of political engagement and academic relevance.

Suresh Canagarajah, Pennsylvania State University, USA

This is a richly detailed and illuminating study of asbestos activism in South Africa. The author's commanding approach helps us see that justice is served, and denied, not only by control over knowledge but also by control over the modalities of participation in knowledge production and the uneven status, distribution, exchange, and circulation of these between and among periphery and metropolis.

Bruce Horner, University of Louisville, USA

This innovative book provides a fascinating textual history of asbestos activism and the struggles of invisible people to be counted as legitimate citizens in the aftermath of apartheid. Trimbur provides a powerful analysis of the struggles to connect grassroots literacy to the written record, arguing for the centrality of participation in this process.

Carolyn McKinney, University of Cape Town, South Africa

John Trimbur teaches rhetoric and writing studies at Emerson College, USA. His research interests include cultural studies of literacy, translingualism and the politics of language in South Africa.

Introduction. Circumstances, Motives, Methods, and Theories   

Chapter 1.  On the Periphery: Life and Literacy in the Kuruman District                                                                             

Chapter 2.  Asbestos Mining in the Written Record: A Brief History                                                                                             

Chapter 3.  The Emergence of Asbestos Activism: From the 'Period of Non-Awareness' to the National Asbestos Summit of 1998                                                                                               

Chapter 4.  Grassroots Activism and the Mobility of Documents: The Formation of the AIG                                      

Chapter 5.  Insurgent Lawfare and Form-Made Persons: From Asbestos Related-Disease Sufferers to Plaintiffs                                                          

Chapter 6.  'The Lawyer Stole the Money': The Political Economy of Compensation                                                        

Conclusion.  Grassroots Activism, Popular Participation, and Contextual Spaces

Postgraduate, Research / Professional
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