Date of Award

Fall 12-2021

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)


Political Science & Geography


Graduate Program in International Studies

Committee Director

Erika Frydenlund

Committee Member

Sabine Hirschauer

Committee Member

Matthew DiLorenzo


There are 884 million people globally that do not have access to improved drinking water, while 2.5 billion do not have improved access to sanitation (Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, 2010). Those living in informal settlements and slums—what I call the ‘solidaric disaffiliated’ zones—represent one such location where individuals around the world have found themselves in a situation of neglected crisis as their geographic, economic, and social expulsion pushes them beyond the reach of opportunity and access to basic human rights such as water and sanitation. As individuals feel their dignity deteriorating due to the extreme precarity they are forced to live in, they have resorted to collective action that causes discomfort in public spaces of appearance through protest action to gain recognition from other, often more economically and politically privileged (‘prosperous core’), members of society. This research focuses on social conflict in the form of protests, riots, strikes, and mass mobilizations in the Western Cape of South Africa. The failure of the government to ensure basic water rights prompts protests in which the solidaric disaffiliated impose discomfort on the prosperous core to force visibility of their struggle in an attempt to gain a broader solidarity base. After several years of low winter rainfall, however, the ‘Day Zero’ water crisis caused precarity and uncomfortable standards of living across all parts of society, regardless of socio-economic status. This then led to the prosperous core participating in collective protest action with the solidaric disaffiliated, reshaping the nature of protest events. In this study, I develop a qualitative analysis of 1,066 newspaper articles covering the Western Cape from January 1, 2012 to December 31, 2019. My contributions are two-fold, both methodologically—through the creation of a unique query, coding structure, and dataset—and theoretically, by characterizing the role of discomfort in social conflict. I identify two types of protests characterized by different levels and types of solidarity in the Western Cape. Through my newspaper analysis, I argue that discomfort is a mechanism that is connected to social conflict events.


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