Exploring social identities in the South African landscape : a study of young, white, South African student teachers.
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The social, political and economic landscape of South Africa, since 1994 has been one of rapid change, where identities and what it means to be a South African have formed critical points of debate. This study used a qualitative methodology to investigate two broad goals: firstly to explore the identities, and influencing factors, of a group of nine young, White, South African student teachers (21-25); and secondly to examine the intersection of social identities and teaching. As a result, this study also investigated how conceptions of identity, including "Whiteness" can have an impact on or influence the professional identities of the participants as young teachers in a multi-cultural and diverse classroom. Selection of participants was based on self-identification as "White", however, by focusing on racial identity in particular this study must acknowledge, as Gunaratnam (2003) does, that it is working both "with and against" race. Two in-depth interviews took place with each participant and two props were used in order to avoid foregrounding race and imposing a definition on the individual respondents. Firstly an "I am" worksheet was used which asked for descriptors; and, secondly, each participant was asked to draw a timeline of their life in response to the question 'What has made you who you are today?" Because of the subjective nature of narrative data, the participants' stories were framed in a broader "landscape" or context. Their narratives were complex and often contradictory, pointing to the fact that researching identities, especially within such a shifting landscape, is always tricky. However, some common themes emerged: social identities as descriptors were avoided, being White in South Africa emerged as different from other contexts such as Europe, race was highlighted in relation to "others" in terms of economic, political and social changes to their worlds and as teachers there was a limited understanding of diversity and broader issues outside of their own experience.