Melanie Walker and Sonja Loots

Funding: SARCHi Chair, NRF grant number 86540.

Although much discussed, there is still an ‘empirical void’ with regard to studies that explore how people themselves understand citizenship and take it up actively in their lives, while not much attention has been paid to the role of universities in developing citizens. The project therefore investigated citizenship formation at universities, drawing on the example of a student leadership project at the University of the Free State, a formerly white South African university, in a higher-education context and society where racialised difference continues to influence peer relationships.  The project developed a multi-dimensional conceptualisation of social citizenship based on TH Marshall enriched by the capabilities approach, which adds specific citizenship dimensions of deliberation, acknowledgment of heterogeneity, and agency goals and activities as core elements of being able to be and to do as citizens.  This was operationalised by investigating the student leadership (F1) programme. Biographical interviews were conducted with 50 students who participated in the first iteration of the programme and 20 from the second iteration (n=70).  The data was analysed for the three capability dimensions and for student criticisms of the programme, and a judgment made of the programme’s contribution to democratic values and citizenship formation.The project also looked at ‘race’ discourses  in the data and the continuing effects of race-based inequalities in South Africa, with a particular focus on university education and what lies behind the persistence of race-based thinking. A conceptual framework which aligns framing dimensions of racism, everyday racism, and the normative yardstick of human capabilities was developed and the data analysed for evidence of personal and interpersonal dimension of racism, but also for evidence of self-transformation enabled by the F1 programme.  The analysis found that, persistent though race inequalities still are in South Africa, there is the possibility of change and the development of inclusive social relations among diverse students and that it is then the responsibility of a university to fashion critical educational opportunities that can foster this potential and reconfigure views, attitudes, and relationships.

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