Schooling girls in post-apartheid South Africa: exploring the construction of youth identities in desegregated girls’ schools
Carolyn McKinney

About the research


NAEd/Spencer Postdoctoral Fellowship

Award Year



University of Cape Town

Primary Discipline

While apartheid education was notorious for its role in enforcing social inequality, white supremacy and patriarchy, with schooling being powerfully abused to shape and distort the values, political consciousness and identities of learners, recent South African educational policy takes up the post-apartheid challenge of contributing to the restructuring of South African society and creating a democratic ethos. However, current research shows a lack of implementation of programmes to address diversity in South African schools and a dominant assimilationist approach in racially desegregated schools. While not denying powerful forms of assimilationism whereby subordinate learners are forced to give up certain cultural resources or ways of being and to take on those that are dominant, this project considers the extent to which such learners might be transforming those cultural resources and constructing new identities. Put differently, this project is concerned with what else might be going on alongside assimilation, with the gaps and moments that might be available for re-making culture and identities. One of the productive sites for the exploration of cultural re-making is learners’ language use and discursive practices. In a context where English is claimed to be hegemonic, and where African parents’ and learners’ choices to be schooled in English are often seen as assimilationist, the study aims to explore girls’ language use and discursive practices as a productive site for cultural re-making, as well as the destabilization of racial categorization through language practices. Ethnographic case studies of two suburban and previously ‘white’ girls’ only secondary schools will be developed: one will be a school accommodating sizeable numbers of black and white learners, and the other, a school where black learners have replaced the previously white learner body. The latter context in particular raises questions about the possible ways in which learners previously denied access are transforming the ‘culture’ of the school.
About Carolyn McKinney

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