Research at UJ Sociology

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The academic staff of the UJ Department of Sociology conduct research in a range of individual areas of expertise as well as in collaborative, interdisciplinary projects. These research projects range from smaller, individual studies to larger scale inter-institutional projects. Staff members regularly present papers at local as well as international conferences. In the recent past, members of the Department of Sociology have engaged with scholars from among other countries Armenia, Australia, Botswana, Brazil, Cameroon, Canada, Chile, Ethiopia, France, Germany, Hungary, India, Ireland, Israel, Kenya, Korea, Kuwait, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Swaziland, Sweden, Switzerland, Tanzania, Uganda, the United Kingdom, the USA, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
Decent work for all and the future of labour in South Africa (2019 – 2021)

Project leaders: Prof Carin Runciman and Prof Luke Sinwell

The world of work is changing. Permanent work has increasingly been replaced by casualised and outsourced labour, leading to declining rates of unionisation in South Africa. Alongside this, new technology offers new employment opportunities, as well as threatening the security of workers in existing industries through the introduction of automation.  These factors combined raise challenges for the possibility of ensuring 'decent work', which have been identified as a key concern for the South African government's New Growth Plan and the UN Sustainable Development Goals. This research, led by Professor Carin Runciman and Dr Luke Sinwell, aims to understand the changing landscape of labour through a focus on three key areas. One, the research will examine how the labour process is being re-organised through the processes of casualization, outsourcing and new technology. Two, the research will analyse how workers and worker organisations, unions and other forms of worker organisation, are responding. Expanding the focus beyond trade unions is vital as most precarious workers are not unionised however, this does not mean that they are not organised. There is a need to further develop our understanding of worker organisations and the role they can play in forging the decent work agenda. Finally, the research will engage with the industrial relations institutions, such as the Department of Labour and the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA), to understand how such institutions are responding to the changing world of work and to identify policy interventions that might be necessary to promoting a decent work agenda in a future economy. This is an ambitious research agenda but one that is required in order to generate new knowledge and understandings of how decent work can be achieved now and into the future. 


Youth development policies and practices in a South African metropolitan municipality (2018-2019)

Dr Siphelo Ngcwangu 

The project is supported by a grant from the National Research Foundation (NRF) under the programme of Centres of Excellence (COEs) for Human Development. The premise of the study is to develop an understanding of how local governments conceptualise and implement policies of youth development. This project focusses on an aspect which is not well addressed in the literature of youth development in South Africa i.e. the role of the local state in shaping youth development policies and how the youth respond to development challenges within their local areas. The project is done in partnership with UJ's Youth Development Institute (YDISA) and will be completed by August 2019.  

Higher education, inequality and the public good in four African countries: South Africa, Kenya, Nigeria and Ghana (2019 - 2020)

Dr Siphelo Ngcwangu 

The project is looking at issues around higher education and the public good in four African countries – these are Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa. It is aimed at exploring the views of different people within these countries on how they understand the notion of the public good and how it relates to higher education  - so how it is taken forward in higher education institutions and across the higher education sector in that country. The project partners are the University of the Witwatersrand Centre for Researching Education and Labour (REAL), National Research Foundation (NRF), Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) and the Newton Fund. 

Migration, Identities and Trans-continental Linkages: Studying the South Indian Diaspora in South Africa.
Prof Pragna Rugunanan

Broadly, the study seeks to address the following objectives:
1. To describe how urban space – both in terms of its built form as well as in terms of the social
organisation of cities – is shaped and reshaped by South Asian migrant communities.
2. To examine the relationship between immigration and livelihoods among South Asian migrants in
contemporary South Africa.
3. To determine the occupational choices that are available to the migrants, and investigate the means
through which they access these choices.
4. To investigate the perceptions that migrant workers have of their own work identity and other identities
(caste, race, religion, among others), and what is the relationship between these multiple identities? Are
these identities static or fluid?
5. To examine how gender is negotiated in terms of migration practices, the choice of urban space,
livelihoods and occupational choices. To explore how South Asian women’s identities are (re)negotiated
within these new cities of the Global South.
6. To understand the nature of migrant workers’ ties to their places of origin and determine how they
develop a sense of belonging to the host community

Student Communities (2011 - 2013)

Project leader: Prof Tina Uys

The full title of this project is Contested Youth Identities in Higher Education: A Comparison between Two Universities in India and South Africa. The project comprised a quantitative first phase in which undergraduate students was surveyed, a second phase involving a quantitative study of postgraduate studies, and a third, qualitative phase during which several elements of the exploratory findings are being probed further. The project benefits from the participation of eight researchers inside UJ, ie Prof Yaw Amoateng, Dr Tapiwa Chagonda, Ms Tina De Winter, Ms Tessa Dooms, Dr Liela Groenewald, Prof Kammila Naidoo, Ms Josien Reijer, Ms Letitia Smuts, Prof Anton Senekal, and Prof Cecilia van Zyl-Schalekamp. Collaborators outside UJ are Dr B Dworzanowski-Venter, Dr N Gundemeda, Ms E Kriel, Prof K Laxminarayan, and Prof S Patel. In addition to this, three doctoral students and four MA students in the UJ Department of Sociology benefit from participation in the project.


Memorandum of Understanding with University of Hyderabad (2011 - 2012)
Project leaders: Prof Kammila Naidoo, Prof Sujata Patel and Prof Tina Uys
The focus of academic cooperation between the departments of sociology at the University of Hyderabad and the University of Johannesburg is on joint and Comparative Research, Faculty and Student exchange and joint seminars or conferences.  

Citizenship and Social Capital (2007 - 2011)

Project leader: Prof Tina Uys

When actors in the developing world mobilise in order to overcome social exclusion, networks are often an unintended consequence. Social exclusion operates by means of persons prohibited from earning a decent livelihood, accessing services, accruing the benefits of formal and informal citizenship, often on the basis of their group identity. These exclusionary forces are accompanied by a loss of dignity. In identifying these factors, or dimensions of social exclusion, persons living in the global South often mobilise in order to attain greater inclusion. In so doing, organic networks are formed. These networks are fairly unique in that they constitute a form of grass-roots social capital that cannot be seen as a mechanism of ruling class power groups. Power operates along, across and within these networks at more localised levels. It is the nature, and content, of both power, flows and networks that needs further exploration in seeking to understand ways of combating social exclusion. This usher in a much-needed return to Bourdieu's understanding of 'social capital' networks, while augmenting it with a more nuanced understanding of the excluded as agents. While social exclusion may be seen to be a universally acute challenge in the global South, this operates in tandem with localised exclusion dynamics and inclusion driven networks. A number of empirical projects are being conducted under the umbrella of these central issues. The fifteen co-workers on this project include faculty members of three South African and two Indian universities. A senior collaborator is Prof Sujata Patel from the University of Pune, India.
COSATU Workers’ Survey (2008 – 2009)

Project leader: Prof Sakhela Buhlungu

This is a collaborative project that involves researchers at the Universities of Johannesburg, Witwatersrand, KwaZulu-Natal, Fort Hare, Nelson Mandela Metropolitan and Western Cape. Funded by the South Africa – Netherlands Research Programme on Alternatives in Development (SANPAD), the project is the fourth run of a longitudinal study of COSATU members’ attitudes on political and socio-economic issues since 1994. The survey is always conducted around the time of national and provincial elections (the last three surveys were conducted in 1994, 1998 and 2004). The findings of the last three surveys have generated numerous publication outputs, including two books. The latest of these (Buhlungu, S. ed). 2006. Trade Unions and Democracy, HSRC) presents the most comprehensive coverage of the findings of the project to date.
Family Resilience and Well-being in South Africa (from 2008) 

Project leader: Prof Ria Smit

A hallmark of South African society for the better part of the last two decades, is the state of flux and consistent change taking place. This brings with it the challenge of having to deal with circumstances and life events that can be described as stressful. Significant stressors such as the illness and death of a close family member due to HIV and AIDS, family violence and a high crime rate are issues of the day, which result in children having to grow up in and adults having to function in a society characterised by profound chronic stressors. Due to the fact that families in South Africa have historically been confronted with stressful challenges such as colonialism, apartheid policies, political turmoil, large-scale urbanisation, and economic difficulty, many family theorists exert an alarmist view, according to which both the individual family as well as the family as an institution are in a process of decline. Being confronted with the challenges of living in a society in transformation, the question is posed, from a deficit paradigm, whether families, now, more than ever, will be able to live up to these challenges. In this research project, the attention shifts away from a deficit approach to embrace a salutogenic paradigm, insofar as attempting to shed light on positive attributes and strengths that promote the growth and development of families. This perspective may, therefore, act as an ‘antidote’ to social sciences’ historical emphasis on pathology and its containment. In using a salutogenic perspective, special reference is to the individual’s perception of family well-being and resilience and how it relates to his/her sense of psychological well-being. Notwithstanding the fact that the concepts ‘well-being’ and ‘resilience’ have gained popularity across academic, public and policy domains, the usage of these concepts has not provided significant amounts of analytical depth within the field of family studies in South Africa. This study seeks to yield contextual sensitivity to further nuance the said concepts by researching these within the context of the diverse nature of families in South Africa.
Informal Settlement and Urban Citizenship in South Africa (2009 - 2012) 

Project leader: Dr Liela Groenewald

This study investigates how approaches to an informal settlement in Johannesburg and Tshwane have developed since 1994. The objectives include characterising the approaches of senior city officials towards informality as reflected in documentary evidence as well as the legal responses to informality. The study further aims to identify differences in policy on informal settlements between the South African national state and the local state in these two cities, along with factors that have contributed to possible tensions. The study will provide empirical evidence of the position of informal settlements in social power relations and the policy processes through which they gain or lose bargaining power. In addition, the study aims to evaluate how different state approaches to informal settlements have recognised or impeded the ability of their residents to claim urban citizenship. This project is funded by the National Research Foundation.
Trade Unions and Party Politics: Labour Movements in Africa (2006 – 2009)

Project leaders: Prof Bjorn Beckman (Sweden), Prof Sakhela Buhlungu and Prof Lloyd Sachikony (Zimbabwe)

There is a strong tradition of close union-party relations globally, especially in Europe, where unions have played a leading role in the making and funding of labour parties. In much of Latin America and in Asia the links are also strong. In the African context, trade unions were often part of anti-colonial liberation movements where they were later incorporated and subordinated. Everywhere, there is a built-in conflict between being part of a government, actual or prospective, and to negotiate a collective agreement on behalf of union members. Union leaders are often accused of betrayal and of seeking privileged access to political power. Everywhere, unions engage in politics by intervening in the regulation of labour, in legislation, labour courts, etc. They also engage politically in order to influence economic and social policies. What has happened to their engagements with political parties? 
This project kicked off with an international conference in Johannesburg, a few days before the ISA Durban Congress. The papers presented at that conference have now been revised and are being prepared for a book manuscript. The book reviews seven African cases, from Senegal, Ghana and Nigeria in the west to Uganda, Zimbabwe, South Africa, and Namibia in the east and south, drawing on a network of leading labour scholars and unionists based in the continent.
Postgraduate student research in the UJ Department of Sociology:

Doctoral theses and MA dissertationsApart from the larger projects mentioned above, staff members of the department are engaged in numerous small-scale research projects, disseminated through various local and international avenues. For details of these outputs, see individual staff pages.

Projects are only listed below in cases where a degree has been awarded or the proposal has been accepted and the student is actively engaged in their project. Names of supervisors are given in brackets. To access electronic versions of theses and dissertations in the UJ library, click here.