Programmatic approach: Identity and Belonging

Identity is individual, social and political. Who people are is shaped by social categories such as race, gender, sexuality, class, ability and age. The social categories people inhabit can exacerbate or ease their differences and the extent to which they feel they belong. Identity and belonging have been shaped in very particular ways in South Africa. The apartheid system constructed racial categories that denied or afforded access, resources and privilege to persons belonging to specific groups. The formal systems of apartheid have been abolished, but for many, the ways in which they see themselves and their sense of belonging, are still tied to ‘race’ constructions.

While black South Africans suffered discrimination because of their racial classification, women were subjected to both racial and gender discrimination. It is only through better understanding the complexity and interrelatedness that research will be able to offer explanations for why these problems continue to find expression in families, institutions and communities, and offer possible solutions to address them.

Addressing the intersections of gender, race and class with poverty and inequality requires working at the socio-psychological levels where identity and belonging are experienced and its impact on everyday life is keenly felt. Transformative research should focus, for example, on schools and higher educational spaces that are confronted by continued cultures of privilege that create a sense of alienation and disconnection.

To foster greater inclusion of all its citizens as well as the dismantling of systemic inequalities, methodologically this work must be participatory and collaborative, transdisciplinary and intersectional and will prioritise cross-stakeholder dialogue and conversation with Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) as well as corporate and academic institutions in the country and across the region. This strategy of engagement, in partnership with government, CSOs and others, would produce outputs that draw on not only longitudinal and large-scale data sets but also smaller focused qualitative studies. 

The work in this thematic area will address identity, belonging and health from the perspectives of gender and race and the impacts these continue to have on various aspects of human and social life.