Thematic thrusts


Our humanities focus permeates all our research but currently include work on sport, performing arts, the role of music in cultural reproduction, and identity-work. Our approach is historical, anthropological and philosophical with a strong emphasis on contemporary narratives and the role of fiction and media in shaping dialogues and social discourse.

In understanding the social conditions of people's lives, we are as interested in considering how diversity in gender, culture, language and identity shape social cohesion as we are in examining social discourse and policies that contribute to change at multiple levels in South African society. To build a socially cohesive society following a legacy of historic racial and ethnic division requires an investigation of our divided history, marginal sexualities, moral values, and views regarding justice, equity, restitution, and  reconciliation (including xenophobia).

A spotlight on childhood vulnerabilities, including those orphaned and made vulnerable by HIV/AIDS and poverty, is central in our approach to children. Social and emotional learning, early childhood development, resilience in the face of poverty, and the mental health of children and caregivers, as part of families and society form the mainstay of our research.

Please have a look at the African Early Child Development Assessment data set as an example of a study that has been done on this theme. The aim of the study was to develop rights and evidence-based indicators for monitoring child wellbeing. Indicators have been developed to measure child outcomes, the quality of the household and neighbourhood environment, service access and service quality.
The focus on young people includes providing up to date data on their status as well as providing an evidence-base for positive youth development. Studies are conducted on the resources and assets of youth, including their demographic presence, navigational capacities for employment and transitions, moral values, capacity to cope with rapid change, and their openness to the future. These include quality work-oriented education, employment, civic participation, and health and well-being.

Sexualities, reproduction and families:
Families are the fundamental building block for positive human development and the principal safety net for people facing chronic and acute challenges. They are also the repository of social values, livelihoods, and legacy. The work of HSD focuses on work-family combinations for men and women, care and care-giving including interactions between services and home care, reproductive choices, the role of men in families and patterns of fathering, and intergenerational relations in families.

In understanding the dynamics of social and individual change (including urbanisation, migration, climate change and technological change) HSD seeks to address both the disjunctures and opportunities for civil society and the State. Furthermore we are interested in understanding social movements: how they develop, operate and impact on people's life opportunities in the context of change, and the values that drive and sustain them. Of special interest are the social aspects of climate change in South Africa and Africa.