Pathways to Resilience: challenging the prevailing knowledge context

Anjonet Jordaan -- Mon, 07/27/2015 - 16:13

Pathways to Resilience: challenging the prevailing knowledge context

Researchers and postgraduate students from the Vaal Triangle Campus’ Optentia Research Focus Area recently attended the third Pathways to Resilience international conference held in Halifax, Canada.

The conference - attended by 540 delegates from 46 countries - was hosted by the Resilience Research Centre and this year's topic was Beyond Nature vs Nature.

Resilience refers to individuals who adjust well to adversity, and flourish following experiences of trauma. Optentia-affiliated researchers presented symposia and papers that emphasised how resilience is a culturally and contextually relevant process, thereby challenging current prevailing understanding of resilience.

From the prevailing ecological systems framework – a theoretical framework that authoritative resilience researchers like Ann Masten and Michael Ungar promote – resilience is a process that is influenced, amongst other things, by culture, context, and historical time. However, because most resilience research is conducted in the Global North, present-day accounts of resilience neglect processes that are more typical in the Global South. Examples that illustrate the differences are belonging to a small, nuclear family that is associated with resilience among children in the Global North; by comparison large kinship networks are more typically associated with resilience among children in the Global South.

Optentia members at Pathways to Resilience Conference
From left to right: Dr Angelique van Rensburg, Khumbudzo Leburu, Carla Bezuidenhout, Saiyya Haffejee, Tamlynn Jefferis, Dr Elmien Truter, Prof Linda Theron, and Carlien Kahl.


“Waithood” associated with African and other inequitable contexts

Optentia-speakers included Profs Linda Theron and Robbie Gilligan, Drs Angelique van Rensburg and Elmien Truter, as well as PhD student Tamlynn Jefferis. Prof Theron organised and chaired a concurrent plenary panel entitled ‘Case studies of ‘waithood’ and resilience-supporting responses from African and other inequitable contexts’. The multi-country expert panel consisted of researchers from South Africa, Australia, United Kingdom and United States of America.

‘Waithood’ is Alcinda Honwana’s interpretation of what young people experience when inequitable social systems disrupt their attainment of social adulthood. An increasingly popular youth response to such limbo, particularly in Africa, is public protest and subversion.

Expert panel chaired by Prof Linda Theron
Back row: Angie Hart, Steve Reid, Arvin Bhana, Linda Theron. Front row: Lali McCubbin, Dorothy Bottrell, Charles Mphande.


Some are constrained by immigrant status, race or ethnicity, disability, or disadvantage; others are thwarted by megalomaniac governments, compulsory community service, or premature fatherhood. They reveal the complex variability of young people’s responses, ranging from a 'no waiting' activism, to stoically ‘doing what they must’ and developing grit, to giving up.

Each case highlights that young people are not lone actors in their responses – social ecologies are co-actors, and not always in ways that sustain resilience. Taken as a collective, these cases signal that resilience-supporting responses to ‘waithood’ demand constructive systemic inputs, which includes collaborating with other young people to overhaul life-worlds that threaten resilience.

Linda Theron also co-presented a pre-conference workshop with fellow Canadian researcher, Linda Liebenberg on qualitative ways of researching resilience with young people from marginalised communities. In addition she also presented a paper on ‘How do education services matter for resilience processes? South African youths’ experiences’. Fellow Optentia researcher, Dr Elmien Truter, presented paper entitled ‘Lived Experiences of Resilience-promoting practices among South African child protection Social Workers’.


Resilience research by Optentia researchers

The Optentia researchers and postgraduate students who attended the Pathways to Resilience international conference are all part of the Optentia sub-programme Pathways to Resilience and Post-traumatic Growth. Prof Linda Theron, with several fellow researchers and postgraduate students, formed part of a five-country study between 2009 and 2014. The study aimed to investigate how social-ecologies, or the social systems that young people are part of, contribute to resilience across contexts and cultures.

The Pathways to Resilience Study in South Africa collected information on 1 137 youths between the ages of 12 and 19 who lived in neighbourhoods characterised by aspects such as high levels of poverty, ineffective schools, high rates of unemployment, crime, poor living conditions, and poor service delivery.

According Prof Theron and fellow researcher Dr Angelique van Rensburg, the findings from the South African study revealed that schools, teachers and education are key factors in what young people report as placing them at risk and supporting their resilience. Thus it is essential that schools need to support the resilience of youth who are at risk and not make them more vulnerable.