Lisa’s Visit to the University of Johannesburg and the Upcoming ECER Conference in Copenhagen from 21st – 25th August

In May 2017 after a visit to the universities of Rhodes and Fort Hare, I completed my journey around the three research sites of the SARiHE project by visiting the University of Johannesburg and the city described as the ‘beating heart of South Africa’. One of the first things that I did was to give a talk at the University of Johannesburg on access and equity in higher education and full details can be found in this review.

SARiHE lunch bagMy first SARiHE meeting was with members of the local team to plan the next data collection session with student co-researchers and to discuss a reading, which had been circulated for discussion by Roberts & Green (2013) Researching Rural Places: On Social Justice and Rural Education. A passage below struck me as pertinent and insightful as I participated the following day in the data collection session with the student co-researchers and listened to their stories and experiences.

“It is not so much that rural research needs to be about valuing rural lifestyles (Howley et al., 2005) but, rather, about valuing particularity (Bourdieu & Wacquant, 1992; Nespor, 2006) and rejecting universalism (Denzin, 2010). To achieve this, researchers need to acknowledge and understand the particularity of the rural life-world, and not universalize or preposition the rural by using methods that erase the distinctness of rural places.” (p.770)

In this data collection session, the student co-researchers were asked to recount critical incidents in their lives that had impacted on their educational experiences and their decisions to pursue higher education. What was striking was the vivid and rich experience expressed by the students and indeed, the variety of that experience and what it meant for them. For example, a very animated and in-depth discussion was had about ‘initiation school’, a rite of passage for both boys and girls in many rural communities in South Africa. van Rooyen et al (2006) explain that ’initiation school’ refers to a type of school that was initially established as a secret rite, which, in a symbolic sense, serves as the teenager’s ‘transit education’ or ‘passport’ to adulthood” (p.13). However, not all of the student co-researchers took part in an ‘initiation school’ so it was not a universal experience for those in rural communities. For those co-researchers that did take part, some found the experience rather complex and troubling while for others it was a more positive and life-changing experience. For some, it could mean an interruption to their formal schooling and could have a significant impact on their educational pathway and this is also identified by van Rooyen et al (2006). What struck me (as a non-South African) and in light of the reading by Roberts & Green (2013), however, was the variation in complex stories being recounted and the important lesson of the ‘particularity of the rural life-world’ and the challenges for us as researchers to be able to reflect that. The importance of having a participative methodology and the involvement of our student co-researchers is vital in achieving this.

These important reflections on the methodological challenges in the SARiHE project will be taken up in a presentation at the upcoming ECER conference in Copenhagen, see our abstract for full details.

University of Johannesburg


Roberts, P. & Green, B. (2013) Researching Rural Places: On Social Justice and Rural Education, Qualitative Inquiry, 19, 10, 765-774.

van Rooyen, L., Potgieter, F. & Mtezuka, L. (2006): Initiation School Amongst the Southern Ndebele People of South Africa: Depreciating Tradition or Appreciating Treasure?, International Journal of Adolescence and Youth, 13:1-2, 13-41.

By Lisa Lucas