Constructing ambiguous identities negotiating race, respect and social change in 'Coloured' schools in Cape Town, South Africa

Doctoral Thesis


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University of Cape Town

South African social relations in the second decade of democracy remain framed by race. Spatial and social lived realities, the continued importance of belonging - to feel part of a community, mean that identifying as 'coloured' in South Africa continues to be contested, fluid and often ambiguous. This thesis considers the changing social location of 'coloured' teachers through the narratives of former and current teachers and students. Education is used as a site through which to explore the wider social impacts of social and spatial engineering during and subsequent to apartheid. Two key themes are examined in the space of education, those of racial identity and of respect. These are brought together in an interwoven narrative to consider whether or not 'coloured' teachers in the post-apartheid period are respected and the historical trajectories leading to the contemporary situation. Two main concerns are addressed. The first considers the question of racial identification to constructions of self-identity. Working with post-colonial theory and notions of mimicry and ambivalence, the relationship between teachers and the identifier 'coloured' is shown to be problematic and contested. Second, and connected to teachers' engagement with racialised identities, is the notion of respect. As with claims to identity and racial categorisation, the concept of respect is considered as mutable and dynamic and rendered with contextually subjective meanings that are often contested and ambivalent. Political and social changes affect the context within which relations to identities are constructed. In South Africa, this has shaped a shift away from the struggle ideology of non-racialism and the respect that could be accrued through this. This process also complicated the status recognition respect historically associated with teaching. As local, national and global contexts have shifted and processes of globalisations have impacted upon cultural and social capital, the prestige and respect of teaching have changed. Appraisal respect has become increasingly important, and is influencing contested concepts of respect and identity. As these teachers exert claims to identities which include assertions of belonging in relation to race and attempts to earn respect, these processes are shown to be elusive and ambiguous. As a trans-disciplinary thesis, this work is located at the intersection of, and between, geography, education, history, anthropology, politics and sociology. Utilising a wide range of materials, from documentary sources, archives, participant observation, interviews and life histories, a multilayered story is woven together. The work's originality stems from this trans-disciplinary grounding and its engagement with wide ranging theoretical approaches. This thesis argues that the lived experience of educators reflects the ambiguous and contentious experience of 'coloureds' in Cape Town. Drawing upon wider literature and debate, the contested location of education - its commodification - in South Africa reflects broader concerns of educationalists in the North and South, and is imbued within concerns over development and sustainability.

Includes bibliographical references.