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Discourses of Black women professors in two South African universities.

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Under the policy of apartheid, racial categorisation deeply moulded South African society and ensued in widespread inequalities. These inequalities inevitably extended to higher education institutions, with White people being advantaged in the journey to professoriate. Despite being 25 years after the end of apartheid, the South Africa professoriate is still predominantly White. Coupled with a racist ideology, a social system of patriarchy has enabled White men specifically (and men in general) to thrive in institutions of higher education via obtaining promotions and professorship status. The discrimination that comes with racism and patriarchy often leaves Black women academics experiencing difficulties in gaining promotion to the professorial level. Although there are a number of Black women professors in South Africa, the proportion is small when compared to professorial members of other race and gender groups. While there is (South African) literature on Black women academics, there is little that focuses on Black women professors. The study reported in this thesis had three objectives. First, it sought to identify and present the discursive strategies that Black women professors in South Africa use to construct their journey to professorship. Second, the study aimed to explore the ways in which Black women’s journeys to professorship may lead to (and arise from) their constructed identities. Third, the study aimed to identify the ways in which Black women professors argue for the benefit that they bring to their institutions. Grounded in a social constructionist research paradigm, semi-structured interviews were conducted with eight Black women professors from two South African universities. A combination of critical race theory, the concept of community cultural wealth, critical consciousness theory, and the concept of empowerment are integrated as a framework to understand the phenomenon of Black women professors. The Foucauldian discourse analysis was used to analyse the data. Collectively, the participants seemed to use three discourses when talking about their journey to professorship: a victim of educational and professional disempowerment discourse, a persistent resilience discourse, and an empowered to empower discourse. The first discourse (the victim of educational and professional disempowerment discourse) was used to discredit the discursive objects that were active in the participants’ disempowerment and the second and third discourses (persistent resilience in education and the empowered to empower discourses) were used to legitimate the discursive objects that were active in the participants’ empowerment. Collectively, the Black women professors in the study constructed a nurturing, transformative leader identity which seemed to be informed by protagonist mothers and academic and professional mentors. The third empowered to empower discourse seemed to arise from the nurturing, transformative leader identity. Due to the intersectional nature of race and gender, the participants brought unique research, management, and leadership insights to their disciplines and institutions. The findings from this study offer new insights into Black women professorship, challenge a variety of racial and gender stereotypes, and highlight the importance of supportive communal engagement. The study findings also reiterate the challenges that basic and higher education institutions (and South African society as a whole) still need to address in order to shift a transformation agenda beyond the current status quo.


Doctoral Degree. University of KwaZulu-Natal, Pietermaritzburg.