Original Research - Special Collection: Spatial Justice & Reconciliation

Interrupting separateness, disrupting comfort: An autoethnographic account of lived religion, ubuntu and spatial justice

John Eliastam
HTS Teologiese Studies / Theological Studies | Vol 72, No 1 | a3488 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/hts.v72i1.3488 | © 2016 John Eliastam | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 16 May 2016 | Published: 25 November 2016

About the author(s)

John Eliastam, Centre for the Advancement of Scholarship, University of Pretoria, Pretoria, South Africa; Centre for Contextual Ministry, Faculty of Theology, University of Pretoria, South Africa


This article uses a fictionalised encounter as the basis for an autoethnographic exploration of the intersections between the South African social value of ubuntu and the notion of spatial justice. Ubuntu describes the interconnectedness of human lives. It asserts that a person is only a person through other people, a recognition that calls for deep respect, empathy and kindness. Ubuntu is expressed in selfless generosity and sharing. The spatial turn in the social sciences and humanities has resulted in a concern with the relationship between space and justice. It recognises that space is not simply an empty container in which people live and act, but is something that is constructed by social relations – and simultaneously constitutive of them. While this recognition gives rise to spatial perspectives on justice, what constitutes spatial, justice, as distinct from other notions of justice, and how such justice is to be achieved are contested. Building on the work of legal scholar, Andreas Philippopoulos-Mihalopoulos, on spatial justice, I argue that the notion of ubuntu is able to shape our understanding of spatial justice, and when practised, it is able to disrupt space and challenge dominant spatial configurations.


Autoethnography; lived religion; ubuntu; spatial turn; spatial justice


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