Panel 24

When political outsiders go into exile in search of social mobility: the new meanings and effects of “political exile”

Panel organiser: Alida Kok, Department of Political Sciences, University of South Africa.


The past decade’s rise in neo-nationalism, increased appearance of populism, and spikes in xenophobia in Africa and the global north, among other regions, point to groups’ discontent – and even feelings of alienation – in their various home, sending or receiving societies. These recent “inward looking” political trends place the societal tension between political “insiders” and “outsiders” in a new early 21st century perspective and also necessitate a fresh interrogation of the concept “political exile” that goes beyond only a narrow understanding of exile as the direct banishment of an individual from a state. Instead, individuals and groups can be placed under imposed, self-imposed or implied political-, social-, economic- or cultural exile due to their outsider status, and as a result need to search for alternative avenues to social mobility that will be accessible to them. This movement due to exile in search of social mobility has a range of socio-political effects and can, among others, take place:

  • within a city (for example, from the periphery to the center, or the center to the periphery),
  • within a state (in the form of provincial, towards-city or from-city migration),
  • between states,
  • within regions (for example, within a regional economic community), and/or
  • between regions (for example, from Africa to Europe, or Europe to Africa).

The idea of political exile in the recent history of South Africa is one example of the socio-political effects of exile on a society. Local South African understandings of “political exile” and “communities that received exiles” during apartheid play notable roles in the (intended and unintended) construction of certain narratives with political capital in South Africa today. Exile and return from exile became a process of political initiation after the end of apartheid and politicians, as well as other influencers, who participated in this process gained political legitimacy and a reputation that serve them in postapartheid politics. These actors also became members of patron-client networks that were created during exile and are sustained after the return from exile. All of these factors play a role in access to social mobility.

This panel invites contributions that examine the:

  • current understandings of “political exile”,
  • political, social, economic and cultural effects of exile,
  • relationship between exile and social mobility, and
  • the role of exile and social mobility in the larger relationship between the underdeveloped and developed world.


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