Life histories of Black South African scientists : academic success in an unequal society.
The purpose of this research is to document the experiences of black South African scientists en-route to gaining a doctorate and provide an explanation of how and why they achieved academic success in the unequal South African society. The South African apartheid society was designed to promote black intellectual underdevelopment. Some managed to proceed to university and a few gained a doctorate. Little is known about these experiences beyond the anecdotal accounts. This study attempts a more systematic study about academic success in an unequal society. The study used a life history approach to understand and explain academic success. The study is not located in any particular discipline or apriori theoretical constructs. The approach involved individuals relating their experience and their subjective interpretation of their experiences. I have written individual stories and by grounded theorising in a cross-case analysis I have suggested constructs to provide an explanation of why they achieved academic success. This study gives us the social history of the education for blacks in South Africa for the period 1948 to 1994. The life stories are contextualised within that social historical period. In this study the analytical, research stories of individuals are presented. These stories illuminate the unfolding of the academic lives and the dynamics that shaped the unfolding of those lives. Using the ten stories a composite thick description of how the variables (social, institutional and individual) shaped the academic pathways for the group is presented. From this data explanatory constructs are suggested to provide an explanation of their academic success. In order to pursue and achieve academic success it was necessary that participants demonstrate academic capability and have access to resources (material and information). In this research I propose three new explanatory constructs plus a fourth one which is not unanticipated but expresses itself in unusual ways in the South African context. The three constructs I am proposing and which are not found in the life history literature about academic success are: academic role replication and expectation; strategic compliance and deferred gratification. The explanatory construct, coherence of roles and support mechanisms, had a particular characteristic in South Africa during this period.