Youth Voices on Social Justice

Funding: NRF grant number 86540.

In post-1994 South Africa, history continues to disfigure the social fabric and educational landscape. Slow-paced and uneven transformation, as well as challenges of power and voice, wealth, race and gender inequalities, and decolonization persist. Public universities, too, face these challenges. Yet, with over 1.2 million students, universities can foster critical ways of thinking about challenging issues, enable us to reimagine and reinvent possibilities, to co-construct knowledge, and to envisage social contributions that align with the seven pillars of the Constitution in South Africa - democracy, responsibility, equality, freedom, respect, reconciliation and diversity. They can imagine and be the society that we want to become and be spaces where the principles of Ubuntu can be mobilized and our freedoms fostered. Universities have great potential to face the injustices that persist in post-apartheid South Africa, to contribute to building a democratic nation and advancing the public good, even though social justice remains elusive and universities still not sufficiently transformed.

We can make a different story of aspirations, decolonial knowledge-making and advancing justice. The struggle for social justice in the aftermath of historical violence should, we think, not simply be about opposing dehumanization but should enable creative, expansive self-actualisation. Change should involve finding ways of reclaiming our sense of being human together and moving forward. This aligns well with Steve Biko’s call for a new humanity.

This project therefore focuses on youth at one South African university in central South Africa. The young people in the project bring different biographies and have had varied experiences of voice and inclusion, or marginalization. Digital story-telling and participatory video are our methods to generate debate over social justice and change. They offer a space for young people to exercise agency, creativity, imagination, mobilize knowledge, and learn new and empowering digital skills. Hence, our aim is to investigate how digital methods can foster spaces for youth voices for a more just university and a more just society.

Our objectives are:

1) To identify ways in which youth can work together to shape stories of transformation for sustainable social justice

2) To encourage inclusive, co-constructed knowledge-making

3) To engage many stakeholders youth voices for social justice using digital story methods

4) To develop new ways of thinking about, and practices for doing on youth-led social justice development

And our two key questions are:

1) What are the education and social experiences and aspirations of university youth? How do they understand social in/justice from their own experiences?

2) How can participatory digital story-telling methods contribute to social justice, and to the university as a space for decolonial research?

Our project makes narrative and stories central in the project to foster participatory research to expands people’s ‘capabilities’ or freedoms (Sen 2009) and realize more justice. We have a special concern with narrative capabilities, voice and speaking because storytelling is an essential part of a rich notion of what it means to be human, it is ‘an essential human act; it what we humans do; it is an act by which we assert our humanity’ (Teresa Phelps, 2006, p. 106).   Moreover, stories involve us emotionally and not only intellectually, ‘they draw us in, challenge our autonomy, and make us cognizant of our inevitable interconnectedness’ (Phelps, 2006, p. 115). Narratives also show that individuals and the particular matter, and this aligns well with capabilities.  Humans are homo narrans, says Phelps (2006, p. 107) because we understand our lives in terms of narrative and through narrative find or assert our place in families, communities, and in our project, a university.

Ours is a participatory research project.  A key political goal for participatory research has to do with the fact that it is typically those with less power who speak through the research process - people whose voices, agendas, and research do not (yet) count as valid knowledge contributions. Instead, the participants (who would normally be considered objects of the research) act as co-investigators so that they might come ‘to a critical form of thinking about their world’ (Freire, 1972, p. 104).  We understand participatory research to seek deliberately, ‘to include the investigated in the process of investigation itself’ (Korala-Azad and Fuentes, 2009-2010, 1) and to strive for methods that are ethical, open, respectful, and alert to power dynamics. Participatory research involves active participation by all and reflection through democratic relationships (Reason & Bradbury, 2008) so that participants’ voices, values, and insights are central. Therefore, participatory approaches aim at doing research with and alongside rather than on and about. Even though projects may not always or even typically succeed in intervening in larger political processes, the aspiration is for more democratic and inclusive forms of knowledge-making.

Our two-year project  (2020/2021)  is led by Melanie Walker and Carmen Martinez-Vargas at the University of the Free State (South Africa). The team includes 12 graduate students as co-researchers and our funding is from National Research Foundation grant number 86540.

Find out more about the project details on HERE.

We use cookies to make interactions with our websites and services easy and meaningful, to better understand how they are used and to tailor advertising. You can read more and make your cookie choices here. By continuing to use this site you are giving us your consent to do this.