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Students’ constructions of ubuntu and social justice in an African distance service-learning programme.

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Fowles, Courtney Rose.

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Ubuntu and social justice are both concepts that resonate with the pursuit of harmony, wellbeing, and reciprocity that service-learning encompasses. The concept of Ubuntu is African whilst the concept of social justice has global and often Eurocentric roots. The aftermath of colonisation in Africa has resulted in an imported pedagogical paradigm from the West that has suppressed an African pedagogy through the erasure of the African voice to date. The decolonisation of education in Africa in this study seeks to uncover Ubuntu as an epistemological underpinning and way forward in transforming education through service-learning in Africa. This qualitative research used social constructionism to frame the discourse analysis utilised in this study. Social constructionism explores how shared experiences and understandings between human beings constitute their reality. Discourse analysis further explores how the use of language and meaning-making systems can construct, position and constrain people. Service-learning students from several African countries that all had experience in a distance service-learning programme spoke of their understandings of Ubuntu and social justice within two focus groups. Exploration of the overarching discourses at play within the service-learning students’ talk revealed dominant power relations and socio-cultural institutions embedded within the talk. The results explored the deployment of predominant discourses of ‘holon-ness’, moral philosophy and Africentricism in the construction of Ubuntu and positioned global culture as threat to its survival. The service-learning students actively engaged with Ubuntu and drew on indigenous knowledge to construct it as an African moral philosophy. The concept of social justice was passively placed in the expert field of the law and human rights by drawing on Eurocentric and United Statesian iterations to construct and make meaning of it. The construction of social justice in relation to Ubuntu were dualistic, as separate definitions of the terms were contradictory in isolation but when discussed together, social justice was re-territorialised to Africa by constructing it as a tenet of Ubuntu on the condition that it pursued harmony and community welfare.


Masters Degree. Univerity of KwaZulu-Natal, Pietermaritzburg.