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Negotiating identities in post-apartheid South Africa : black African managers' experiences in an English-speaking university

University of Cape Town
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  • Industry
  • Labour And Organisational Studies


This is a study about the subjective experiences of black African managers working in an English-speaking university in post-apartheid South Africa We investigated the adaptationstrategies they employ as they navigate borders and boundaries between their home and work worlds, and how they negotiate identity in an environment dominated by Eurocentrism in one of the oldest English-speaking universities in South Africa. The theoretical framework was informed Berger & Luckmann's (1966) "Social Construction of Reality", in particular, their concepts of subjectivity and intersubjectivity; and Phelan, Davidson and Yu's (1993 & 1998) "Multiple Worlds Typology". The theories proposed by these writers acknowledge that individuals move between multiple worlds as they go about their daily lives. We adopted a typology from Phelan et al. (1993 & 1996) based on whether or not the "worlds" are congruent and what adaptation strategies individuals use in their transitions across borders and boundaries. We used a qualitative approach which involved face to face in-depth interviews with six black African managers using a semi-structured interview schedule. This, importantly, meant we allowed the respondents' subjective voices to emerge. The six respondents fell across four out of six types of transitions and we were able to construct their profiles which represent identity clusters showing how different individuals deal with common experiences and the variety of strategies they employ. The four types were Congruent Worlds/Smooth Transitions, Different Worlds/Border-crossings Managed, Different Worlds/Border-crossings Difficult, and Different Worlds/Borders Resisted. The strategies for negotiating identity in the workplace included conforming to the institutional culture, integrating or "plugging in" selected values of the African home culture into that of the company, resisting the dominant culture of the company and leaving the company altogether.

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