Police dogs and state rationality in early twentiethcentury South Africa
in Science and society in southern Africa
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The police represented dogs as a modern scientific investigative technology which could help to negotiate dealings between rulers and ruled on terms of the authorities' choosing. Ethnographies indicate that dogs occupied an ambiguous position in the beliefs of many African communities in early twentieth-century South Africa. Black South Africans undoubtedly experienced police dogs' 'smelling out' of alleged 'criminals' as oppressive. Members of Parliament with large farming constituencies repeatedly demanded more extensive use of police dogs in the 1920s, whereas in the immediate post-Union period the topic had occasioned mainly back-bench mirth in the House of Assembly. The discourse of modernity legitimating the canine programme rested ultimately on two irrationalities governing state institutional action itself. The short cut to satisfactory outcomes that the canine ritual facilitated thus represented an effective qualification of bureaucratic instrumentality's colonisation of early twentieth-century South African society.

Editor: Saul Dubow

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