Construction of threat : Afrikaansness as an identity in crisis in post-apartheid South Africa.
In a South African society in transformation it is well known that "white‟ Afrikaans-speaking South Africans are experiencing social change as a painful process. Against this background the purpose of the study was to investigate the construction of identities of being Afrikaans during family conversations between school-going Afrikaner adolescents and their parents in the post-apartheid context. A qualitative research design was utilized to investigate the phenomenon of negotiating identities of Afrikaansness in depth, openness and rich detail. A social constructionist meta-theoretical perspective underpinned the study. Theoretical perspectives from discursive psychology, as well as the dialogical self theory, formulated by Hermans and colleagues, framed the analysis and interpretation of the data. In contrast to conventional psychological approaches to the study of adolescent identity, such as the neo-Eriksonian identity status model developed by Marcia, identity was conceptualised as discursively produced between speakers in dialogue, and in particular social, cultural and historical contexts. Nine Afrikaner families, consisting of both parents and at least one school-going adolescent, between 16 and 18 years of age, were invited to take part in family conversations about their "white‟ Afrikaner identity. The nine family conversations were managed as focus groups (Wilkinson, 2004), and the purpose was to allow family members to talk freely and interact with one another around their experiences as "white‟ Afrikaans-speakers in the post-apartheid society. A discursive and rhetorical analysis, using Billig's (1996) rhetorical approach, was utilized to analyse the transcribed texts of the family conversations. The analysis revealed that when Afrikaners talk about their identities of being Afrikaans in the post-apartheid context their discourse involves talk about being threatened. Afrikaners seem to experience a sense of threat in relation to the stigma of being branded as "oppressors‟ and "racists‟ under apartheid, and they often utilize the discursive strategy of constructing themselves as victims and the Other as a powerful opponent or enemy. Furthermore, the analysis showed that the threat narratives contained an ambivalent structure. This ambivalent structure can be seen in the use of disclaimers, mitigations and other forms of racism denial in the construction of these threat narratives. These are the routine discursive manoeuvres of social face-keeping when talking about the Other. Analysis of the interview transcripts revealed that discourses of the past were often recited in the construction of threat narratives. In unpacking the Afrikaner threat narratives, it was shown how the participants recited ways of talking that were dominant in the apartheid era in making sense of changing realities in post-apartheid South Africa. The discourse of the "Swart Gevaar‟ (Black Danger) seems to be one of the most pervasive discourses in the production of the threat narratives, and it is used to construct a powerful Enemy that wants to harm the language, culture and interests of Afrikaners. The analysis indicated that Afrikaner adolescents and their parents often collaborated in producing identities of threat and apartheid in conversation. However, during the dialogue forms of contradiction, contestation and discursive struggle also emerged. There were occasions during the dialogue where the adolescents utilized discursive and rhetorical resources from being embedded in de-segregated settings. These ways of talking can be characterized as "non-threat talk‟ and "non-separation/apartheid talk‟. From a discursive and dialogical self theory perspective, identities are taken up as ways of doing or enacting identities in discourse and in dialogue, and not as universal and timeless structures of personality (such as the neo-Eriksonian identity status model). In trying to understand the complex identity struggles of Afrikaner adolescents in a tension-filled and rapidly changing society like South Africa, it is necessary to utilize theoretical and methodological tools that are appropriate in dealing with the complexity and multiplicity of identity responses that emerge in these contexts. For this reason the dialogical self theory was found to be a useful theoretical perspective in making sense of the multiplicity of voices or identities that emerge in a heterogeneous and globalizing society like South Africa.