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Melissa Wrapp

Melissa Wrapp 2014-15 Peterson Fellow

Melissa Wrapp is a second year Ph.D. student in the Department of Anthropology.  She holds an MPhil from the University of Cambridge in Social Anthropology and a B.A. in Anthropology and Peace Studies from the University of Notre Dame.  Melissa’s current research interests include urban planning, low-income housing development, bureaucracy, and citizenship.

Melissa’s research seeks to investigate privatized urban housing development in Cape Town, South Africa, through the lens of “mini-cities” such as Wescape (a mega housing project proposed to break ground just north of the city in 2015), in order to examine competing imaginaries of African urban futures. Though publicized in eye-drawing brochures and splashy TED-talks, these futures are negotiated through struggles between municipal and provincial governments over land use ordinances, battles over the zoning of the city’s urban edge, and local communities’ contestations over property values and environmental impacts. Critical analysis of Wescape’s ongoing pursuit of legal authorization for development offers insight into local perceptions of value, urban citizenship, and cultures of expertise (both legal and architectural) in this neoliberal postcolony.

However, while future-oriented, developments like Wescape also share crucial continuities with past urban planning techniques and utopian visions for Capetonian communities. In her Peterson Fellowship project, Melissa will trace these continuities through the history of legislation that, to follow an architectural metaphor, served as the foundation on which the edifice of apartheid-era racial spatial management was constructed. An exposition of this history, coupled with analysis of ethnographic data from exploratory fieldwork conducted in summer 2014, will not only provide a basis for critiquing the fiction of rupture and fresh beginnings promulgated by “mini-city” developers, but will also offer insight into the political expediency of this tabula rasa narrative.