Strangerness & Belonging in a WhatsApp Group

Research Project, Johannesburg (2018)

Strangerness & Belonging explored the fears and paranoia that circulate in a neighbourhood WhatsApp group in Johannesburg. This research was  featured on the BBC (listen to the episode here). The results of the project were published in the international peer-reviewed journal Open Cultural Studies (PDF). Strangerness & Belonging was done under the auspices of the Media, Communications and Cultural Studies department at Goldsmiths College (London).

The messaging application WhatsApp is often adopted in urban neighbourhoods to distribute and discuss information as part of neighbourhood watch programmes. In this context, certain notions of information sharing and the cherishing this implies, are often entangled with ideals of protection in the neighbourhood. Using the case study of an enclosed neighbourhood in Johannesburg, this research draws on theories of affect and mobility to introduce the concept of affective mooring. That is, that a neighbourhood WhatsApp group constitutes an affective mooring – an established practice and point of fixity – that generates a sense of being held in a community through feelings of collective presence and safety. Notably, these feelings of presence and safety are hinged on acts of resistance and alienation towards strangers. In this way, WhatsApp as an affective mooring in the neighbourhood is also a site for negotiating ideals of belonging. 

strangerness & belonging in a WhatsApp group