School of Built Environment and Development Studies Seminar

Title: The Intimate Politics of the Education Market: Notes on the Family and Schooling in Umlazi township

Speaker: Mark Hunter

Time: 12h30-13h50, 6 August 2014

Venue: Seminar Room F213, School of Built Environment and Development Studies, Memorial Tower Building, UKZN. Google maps: -29.866933,30.981963 

Abstract: It is often said that the South African public schooling system is in crisis, and many metrics support this statement. Yet collective protests centered on education have been relatively scarce—despite the rise in ‘service delivery’ protests in the 2000s and the move to a more marketized education system. Are there other sites from which to consider the politics of education? Based on research in Umlazi township, this paper explores schooling from the perspective of families, gender, and intimacy. It puts forward three main points. First, when the scale and scope of schooling has increased dramatically—symbolized by many children now travelling from townships to ‘multiracial’ schools—intimate worlds take on a contested new geography, for instance when children ‘eat from the same pot’ but do not ‘school in the same school’ or when they live with a domestic worker relative and claim access to suburban schools. Second, as competition among schools has intensified, the very perception of a ‘good’ school depends on the way it is seen to interact with the family. While thousands of children travel with omalume (‘uncles,’ here ‘schoolchildren’s taxi drivers’) to ‘multiracial’ schools, other parents prefer a small number of high-performing but low-fee township schools that offer a father-like discipline based on the principles of inhlonipho (‘respect’). Third, in a setting where four out of five children don’t live with both their parents, the educational market will always be in particular tension with motherhood, fatherhood, and the making of other social bonds. This ‘bond of education’—including the ensuing debts—is implied by the isiZulu term ukufundisa that is commonly translated as ‘to teach’ but has a wider meaning of someone pushing a child through education (‘cause to learn’) that does not depend on co-residence but the financing and organizing of schooling. The paper concludes that educational inequalities are felt not only in school drops-outs or failed exams but when everyday social bonds are made and broken in sometimes painful ways.

Bio: Mark Hunter is Associate Professor in the Department of Human Geography, University of Toronto Scarborough, and Honorary Research Fellow in the School of Built Environment and Development Studies at the University of KwaZulu-Natal. He is the author of Love in the Time of AIDS: Inequality, Gender, and Rights in South Africa (2010, Indiana University Press/UKZN Press), and has been working for the last 5 years on the politics of schooling in south and central Durban.

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