Against arguments that would reduce the magazine form among black South Africans to a form of cultural imperialism, in this essay I argue that the socio-semiotic work of magazines extends way beyond their immediate or most apparent use value. Assessing some of the ways consumer magazines function seminally as “cultural tools” through which specifically urban,middle-class repertoires are confirmed, codified, disseminated, and transformed for and by black South Africans living in urban(izing)environments, the essay singles out their evocative power, that is, the way consumer magazines authorize “aspired to,” not necessarily“given” states of affairs. More specifically it examines how the use of English in consumer magazines for black South Africans has been strategically mobilized and (re)activated as (1) part and parcel of the urban,middle-class repertoire of discursive and cultural disposi-tions initially derived from the nineteenth-century missionary enterprise in South Africa and(2) a means of strategically transforming this repertoire “from below,” in keeping with the current needs and interests of many black South Africans. Providing their readers with an efficient means of integrating and transforming oral traditions, such as public debate, oral poetry and song,storytelling and oral narrative, all received sources of African“cultural capital,” into literate modes of print culture and“urban ways of knowing,” consumer magazines for black South Africans also operate as participatory public forums enhanced by urban technologies.

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