Democracy, Identity, and Citizenship Education in South Africa: Defining a Nation in a Postcolonial and Global Era

  • Patricia K. Kubow
Part of the Globalisation, Comparative Education and Policy Research book series (GCEP, volume 3)

Since lived experiences within social systems are interpreted through cultural lenses, comparative research that seeks the meanings that people in different parts of the world give to the term democracy is of particular importance. This need is even more urgent as globalization, guided by Western values and assumptions, is mistaken for national priorities elsewhere. The language and processes of globalization often mask the ideological and hegemonic agenda of a country's elites as well as the intentions of actors across the complex network of nations. Since knowledge is expressed through language, dominant discourses of identity politics and nation-building are an exercise in power and help to fashion citizens' understandings of reality. Thus, democracy, which derives from the Greek word demos kratia (“people rule” or “popular rule”), is a concept for cross-cultural study in a non-Western, postcolonial context. The focus in this chapter is on citizen identity and nation-building efforts in South Africa and the role of indigenous (local) knowledge and global discourse in shaping constructions of democracy and citizenship education.

In general, democracy describes the particular kind of political arrangement of a society. In its pure or ideal form, democracy is a mechanism that enables a balance of self and group expression and that seeks to develop relationships based on respect and reciprocity between the nation and its citizens (see also Perry, 2005). Education for democratic citizenship seeks to develop specific knowledge, skills, and values in students that, in effect, help to develop students' identities. Identity can be understood as “the frame within which [people] can determine where they stand on questions of what is good, or worthwhile, or admirable, or of value” (Taylor, 1989, p. 27). A study of South Africa's democratic transition, however, reveals that democracy's conceptualization is embedded in a host of sociocultural, economic, and political conditions that have shaped citizen identity and nation-building in particular ways. These conditions are implicated by a colonialist past whereby indigenous knowledge systems—the values, beliefs, and practices that indigenous peoples bring to daily life—were negated or devalued by colonialists in favor of Western values and methods (Constantino, 1978; Macedo, 1999). To understand President Thabo Mbeki's call for a contemporary African Renaissance and revival of indigenous knowledge systems in South Africa, one must first consider the historical legacy and ideological effects of Dutch and English colonization in the country that constrained an inclusive vision of citizenship.


National Identity Indigenous Knowledge Citizenship Education Democratic Citizenship Social Vision 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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  • Patricia K. Kubow

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