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Ordinary Politics: Race and opportunity in contemporary South Africa

In 2008, a series of events in South Africa indicated the lingering difficulties in trying to build a “united” and reconciled, post-apartheid society. The incidents ranged from racist video clips to xenophobic attacks on foreign nationals in townships. They provided the main motivation behind this research collaboration between the Children’s Institute and Princeton University.

This ethnographic study had six young adults from various socio-economic and racial backgrounds at its core. It aimed to understand young adults’ perceptions, attitudes and beliefs toward the opportunities that will – or will not – be available to them as a consequence of government policy and inter-group relations.

Many hours of interview material were collected, while observational work focused on the youth’s social worlds, work environments and (extended) families. In this way, the study branched out from the six core participants to include interviews with their friends, family members, (former) school mates, co-workers, employers and others who shape the participants’ lives.

The study probed, among others, participants’ perceptions of past and present “political histories”, their memories and understandings of the apartheid era, the transition to democracy, and the contemporary state of the country’s political system. Other interview topics ranged from family histories, trajectories of employment or unemployment, to “community forces” shaping young adults’ every day lives.

The research was published by Beacon Publishers in a narrative-style book, co-authored by principal investigators Katherine Newman (Princeton University) and Ariane De Lannoy (Children's Institute). After Freedom: The Rise of the Post-Apartheid Generation in Democratic South Africa was released in April 2014 to coincide with the 20th anniversary of South Africa's first democratic elections.

The project was funded by Princeton University.



Further reading

After Freedom: The Rise of the Post-Apartheid Generation in Democratic South Africa
Newman K & De Lannoy A 2014
Boston: Beacon Publishers; distributed in South African by Random House Struik.

Ikasi style and the quiet violence of dreams: A critique of youth belonging in post-apartheid South Africa
Swartz S, Hamilton Harding J & De Lannoy A 2012
Comparative Education. Special Issue: 48/1. Youth citizenship and the politics of belonging.

Ordinary politics: Race and opportunity in contemporary South Africa
De Lannoy A 2009
In: Child Rights in Focus, Issue Number 8, April 2009.

Copyright © 2012 Children's Institute, University of Cape Town

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