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 Research Programmes


Transformative Social Policy Programme

The Transformative Social Policy Programme grew out the research programme at the United Nations Research Institute for Social Development (Geneva) on Social Policy in the Development Context. Profess or Adesina served as an External Research Coordinator on the UNRISD programme and directed the sub-Saharan African segment of the global research programme. The outcome of the UNRISD programme is the idea of transformative social policy, which takes us beyond the dominant approach to Social Policy in two senses. First is going beyond social policy as the use of public instruments for averting social risk in the immediate to short-run. It emphasizes the social protection dimensions of Social Policy. Second, is the unintended assumption of social policy as predominantly state-directed policy efforts at higher levels of growth, notwithstanding the idea of social policy provisioning as the intersection of family, market, and the state. A transformative approach to the study of Social Policy and public policy-making and implementation provides wider lens, stressing the links between economic and social policy, the multi-tasking of social policy including redistribution, protection, reproduction, production and social cohesion or nation-building. It allows us to transcend the ‘intrinsic’ versus ‘instrumental’ narratives in current approaches to social policy. That social policy has multiple tasks, and that these go beyond aversion or attenuation of near-term social risks—to involve long-term issues of economic development and the expansion of human capabilities, solidarity, and equality—offers the basis a more robust research agenda and approach to public policymaking. Transformative Social Policy explores the nexus of the multiple tasking of social policy, the inter-links between social and economic policies, and transformative effects of social policy instruments.

There are two on-going research projects within the Programme. The first is a SIDA-Nordic Africa Institute-funded research project on ‘Poverty and Social Transfer Schemes in Sub-Saharan Africa.’ The second is a CODESRIA-funded comparative research network on ‘Beyond Social Protection: Social Policy in Rethinking Africa’s Development.’ This is a collaborative research project involving colleagues in Ghana and Uganda, on a comparative study of Ghana, Rwanda, and South Africa. Both research projects involve working with a cohort of doctoral and master’s degree candidates. The Transformative Social Policy Programme is directed by Professor Jimi Adesina, who is the principal investigator on the two projects.

Registered PhD Students:

Kola Omomowo’s doctoral thesis work, “The Lords of Poverty? Micro-credit institutions and social reproduction in South Africa”, is concerned with social reproduction among the class of the employed, low-income earners in South Africa.

Shirley Shivangulula’s doctoral thesis work, “Employment Demand, Employability and the Supply-side Machinery: the case study of the Children of Liberation Struggle Struggle of Namibia,” explores the labour market experiences of the “children of the liberation struggle” in Namibia.

Registered Master’s Thesis Students:

Kimberley Usher is exploring the politics of healthcare reform, specifically, the National Health Insurance Scheme in South Africa. Her work draws on the comparative experiences of Canada and Sweden in reforming healthcare provisioning.Sandis

Intellectual Heritage Project

The Intellectual Heritage Project (IHP) arose out of the concerns with the crises of epistemic dependence and the dearth of ‘exemplary idea’ in the sociological (social science) theorising, practice, and pedagogy in South Africa. An important dimension of this is the erasure of the works of leading (South) African scholars from much of the South African social science curriculum and intellectual discourses. The IHP is concerned with displacing epistemic dependence: a shift from being consumer to producers of works of epistemic significance. Central to this are three distinct efforts. First involves the promotion of ‘self-knowledge’ among a new generation of (South) African social scientists (and sociologists specifically). The ‘self’, as a collective self, involves familiarity and intimacy with the scholarship and works of intellectual progenitors and heritage. This requires the ‘excavation’ and valorisation of the works of leading (South) African scholars that are peripheral or absent from the prevailing discourses and curricula. Second, and arising from this, is teasing out important and seminal ideas from such works for animating social science research, debates, and teaching. Third, involves epistemic engagement with local ontological narratives and the feasibility of their serving as source-codes for doing social science in contemporary (South) African context. An overriding principle of the Intellectual Heritage Project is about social science practice that is committed to and grounded in its locales, and that takes its (ethnographic) data as the basis for generating new knowledge of epistemic significance.

There are two research projects currently being implemented under the IHP. The first is the NRF-funded “Endogeneity and Modern Sociology in South Africa” project concerned with exploring the sociological contributions of Bernard Magubane, Ruth First, Archie Mafeje, and Fatima Meer. The second in a CODESRIA-funded project exploring the scholarship of Thandika Mkandawire, especially in the field of Development Studies and Social Policy. The NRF-funded project involves working with a cohort of post-doctoral and research degree candidates. Professor Jimi Adesina is the principal investigator on the two projects.

Post-doctoral Candidate

Dr Ashley Sarimana is a post-doctoral fellow under the Intellectual Heritage Project. Her research explores the hidden dimensions of South Africa’s political biography.

Registered Master’s Thesis Students:

Luthando Funani thesis is concerned with an exploration of Archie Mafeje’s works (and intellectual contributions) in the area of State, Democracy, and Development.

Bongani Nyoka’s thesis is explores the problematic of curriculum transformation in South Africa, with special reference to the field of Sociology, using Archie Mafeje’s concept of “authentic interlocutor” as his organising framework.

Aesthetics, Politics & Diversity

An interdisciplinary working group, directed by Professor Heike Becker, currently involves the principal investigator and four senior researchers from the Anthropology & Sociology, English and Women & Gender Studies departments, and BA Honours, Masters and Doctoral students in Anthropology, Sociology, English, Women and Gender Studies. International co-operators include Birgit Meyer (Utrecht University), Matthias Krings and Anna-Maria Brandstetter from the Johannes Gutenberg-University Mainz.

The working group is currently engaged in two interlinked major projects on performance, belonging and the politics of difference in Africa.

Current and recent postgraduate student fellows include:


Ala Alhourani (Anthropology); Performing Muslim-ness in Cape Town: Authenticating Cultural Difference, Belonging, and Citizenship

Allanise Cloete (Anthropology); The invention of moffie life in Cape Town, South Africa

Tigist Hussen (Women & Gender Studies); Difference and embodiment: a comparative study of Ethiopia and South Africa (previously a MA fellow; graduated March 201

2)Odette Murara (Anthropology); “Beyond Xenophobia”: conviviality and everyday experiences within diversified communities of Cape Town

Michael Akuupa, (Anthropology); The formation of ‘national culture’ in Namibia: A focus on state-sponsored cultural festivals (complete; graduated March 2012)


Chanell Oliphant (Anthropology, UWC); The changing faces of the klopse: performing the rainbow nation during the Cape Town carnival

Hibah Hendricks (Anthropology); Fashion, Performance and the Politics of Belonging among Muslim Women in Cape


Chrystelle Cupido (English); Citizenship and Identity in contemporary South African youth literature: A study of selected youth fiction

Lerato Makhale (Anthropology); Phillippi, iKasi lami: young people and the performance of belonging in a South African township

Meseret Tarekegn (Sociology); A phenomenological study of intergenerational relations among Ethiopian immigrants in Cape Town

Monique van Vuuren (Women & Gender Studies); Self-styling, fashion and the performance of dfference: Young women in Cape Town

Natasha Brown (Women & Gender Studies); ‘Stoner Culture’: A sub-culture of difference among UWC students

Alton Riddles (Anthropology); Cultural Production and the Struggle for Authenticity: A study of the Rastafarian student organisation at the University of the Western Cape (complete; graduated September 2012)

BA Honours:

Robin Thompson (Anthropology): An ethnographic study of young adults and music in Kuilsriver

Samuel Kalule (Sociology): Zimbabweans and South Africans in Gugulethu

Brian Muzerengi (Anthropology): The rise of pentecostalism and the politics of difference in Christian circles in Harare, Zimbabwe

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