What We Do
The Wits Centre for Diversity Studies is based in the Faculty of Humanities at the University of the Witwatersrand. Through interdisciplinary postgraduate education and research, WiCDS aims to build capacity to meet the challenges of diverse societies, especially in post-apartheid South Africa.
In addition to being grounded in social justice imperatives, the research and education of the programme is informed by Melissa Steyn’s (2007) notion of Critical Diversity Literacy which is “a sharply focused critical lens which examines those operations of power which implicate social identities to create systems of privilege, advantage, disadvantage and oppression. The US academic, France Winddane Twine, has described what she calls ‘racial literacy’. (Ethnic and Racial Studies, November, 2004). Adapting the concept to analyse other axes of oppression, such as gender, sexuality, disability and class amongst others we can describe the field of critical diversity studies as that which develops ‘diversity literacy’ in scholars and researchers.
Steyn (2015) states that critical diversity literacy is an analytical orientation that allows a person to read social relations as one would read a text. The following are the ten criteria for critical diversity literacy:
- An understanding in the role of power in constructing differences that make a difference.
- A recognition of the unequal symbolic and material value of different social locations. This includes acknowledging hegemonic positionalities and concomitant identities such as whiteness, heterosexuality, masculinity, cisgender, ablebodiedness, middleclassness etc. and how these dominant orders position those in non-hegemonic spaces.
- Analytic skill at unpacking how these systems of oppression intersect, interlock, co-construct and constitute each other , and how they are reproduced, resisted and reframed.
- A definition of oppressive systems such as racism as current social problems and (not only) a historical legacy.
- An understanding that social identities are learned and are an outcome of social practices.
- The possession of a diversity grammar and a vocabulary that facilitates a discussion of privilege and oppression.
- The ability to ‘translate’ (see through) and interpret coded hegemonic practices.
- An analysis of the ways that diversity hierarchies and institutionalised oppressions are inflected through specific social contexts and material arrangements
- An understanding of the role of emotions, including your own emotional investment, in all of the above.
- An engagement with issues of the transformation of these oppressive systems towards deepening social justice at all levels of social organisation.
Drawing on cutting edge social theory, the Critical Diversity Studies lens opens up challenging research questions which emerge in the interstices of current disciplinary boundaries. These questions have the capacity to shift ‘common sense’ assumptions about the social, enabling fresh and penetrating analyses of current social challenges. While no single research methodology need necessarily flow from Critical Diversity Literacy, it involves the recognition of social construction and the constitutive role of discourse in employing critical social theory.