Research Programmes

Research programmes

In the Focus Area: Social Transformation there are four different research programmes

Research programmes in the entity:

Social and restorative justice

Social justice refers to fairness in society. This implies respect for all human beings, non-discrimination, equal opportunity, and equal access to resources in society. The four main principles of social justice are: access to resources, equity, participation, and human rights. Related to social justice is restorative justice, which focuses on redressing harm through collaboration and reintegration.

Subthemes in the programmes includes:

Gender and sexuality

The South African Constitution seeks to contribute to the realisation of gender and sexual inclusivity, reciprocal respect, and equality. Yet, irrespective of its lauded provisions, research shows that South Africa’s history of violence under apartheid and increasing reports of gender-based violence (GBV) against women, men and children, continue to shape our conceptualisations, experiences and expressions of gender and sexuality. Varied ideologies inform contemporary views about the matter. On the one hand, some espouse support for a hierarchically stratified approach to gender and sexual identification, i.e., favouring hegemonic, heteronormative, and patriarchal views. On the other hand, some proponents of Feminism, inclusive masculinity theory (IMT), postmodernism, poststructuralism, queer theory, and social constructionism, among others, point to the growing diversity, fluidity, plurality and homosociality between and men and women. To this end, this subprogramme encourages academics and postgraduate students alike, to conduct comprehensive, systematic, and integrated studies to accrue knowledge and critical understandings of debates in modern, postmodern and poststructuralist theorisation about gender and sexualities. Depending on their respective foci, individual researchers and research teams endeavour to identify and analyse complex challenges related to gender and sexualities in South Africa to propose recommendations and solutions to current challenges based on theory-driven arguments.


Democracy remains a critical theme of research as the late 20th-century wave of democratisation recedes into history.  Challenges of the sustainability and deepening of democracy have now emerged and, in some cases, threaten democratic gains. Deepening of democracy as a research context in South Africa is considered appropriate as various social, political, and economic questions and challenges relate to the understanding of democracy and its survival. This extends to Africa and the globe, where the sustainability of institutions, the state, economy, society, global power shifts, safety and security, nationalism and conflict, all become interrelated and mutually influential. The lens of deepening democracy enables the research exploration of all these and related matters of interest for social scientists.

Digital humanities (Artificial Intelligence)

The speed and scale at which contemporary technologies are developing have changed how we understand and encounter knowledge, how we do politics, and how societies are shaped. We see this, for example, in the widespread cognitive saturation induced by media overload; new forms of surveillance; the weaponisation of nationalist, xenophobic, sexist and racist proclivities for populist agendas; and the digital transformation of society that blurs the distinction between online and offline life. Social media is also changing the distribution of power – in positive and negative ways. More negatively, it has given rise to what has been called “neo-colonialism”: the expansion and establishment of online territories that are owned and governed by a few multimedia companies in the global North, while the global South continues to be used for extractive purposes which extends to data harvesting, cobalt mining, and the outsourcing of call-centre work. More positively, it has allowed people to unite with lost family members, maintain long-distance friendships, and even find organ donors.

But digitality extends beyond information, politics, and socio-economic concerns because it also has direct environmental impacts. The relationship between network infrastructures and fossil fuels is fundamentally unsustainable and needs to be researched more intensively. The digital humanities aim to respond to these complex intersections through the disciplines of the humanities, with a focus on transdisciplinary and collaborative research.

Environmental Humanities

While the environmental crisis is often seen as the domain of the sciences, it is also the case that the humanities have diverse disciplines that engage with the environment too. Indeed, there is consensus that the cause of the climate crisis is largely anthropocentric, compelling those in the humanities to engage with the human in the environment. The anthropocentric nature of the environmental crisis raises questions of ethics, history, human (and environmental) rights, beauty, value and so on. These questions can be answered through philosophy, anthropology, sociology, the arts, literature, and many other disciplines in the humanities.

The Environmental Humanities, therefore, is a broad term that encompasses many disciplines, approaches, and methods and encourages cross- and interdisciplinary academic engagement.

Organisational management for sustainability (Public, for-profit and non-profit)

Sustainable management is concerned with the long-term well-being of organisational stakeholders.  These pillars are central to sustainable management: long-term profit, sustainable environment and social sustainability. In this research programme there is a three-fold focus:

Strategic management of internal stakeholders

The context of the democratic developmental state (i.e., the democratic rights of citizens, the constitutional obligation of service delivery, and the objectives of the National Development Plan [NDP]: Vision for 2030), demands the Public Service to strategically manage the execution of the state’s goals and objectives. Public servants are essential in achieving the aforementioned and should thus be managed with excellence and sustainability in mind. In addition, the digitalisation of the work environment amidst the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) demands new work procedures and the re-skilling of public servants. Moreover, similar to the majority of states in the Global South, the government of South Africa faces, for instance, challenges of poverty; unemployment; inequality; ubiquitous corruption; inadequate service delivery; poorly maintained infrastructure; inadequate service delivery; security concerns; and failing public health services. The functionality of the Public Service in such a disruptive context necessitates the optimal management, development, and utilisation of public servants to enhance Public Service performance with a view to address the infinite needs of society.

Strategic management of external stakeholders

The organisational landscape is continuously changing, and the current environment can be described as volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous. It is widely believed that the future and success of any organisation depends, inter alia, on the impression that stakeholders form of that organisation. Therefore, organisations should continually focus on establishing, building, and communicating an organisation’s focus, mandate, image and reputation. In addition, organisations should aim to cultivate and maintain the best possible relationship with their stakeholders in order to survive, ensure success and to achieve the long-term objective of creating value for the organisation, its stakeholders and citizens. This changing environment also demands that organisations, for instance, adapt their communications capabilities. With this in mind, the core focus of corporate communication is based on the quality of communication with stakeholders, which is a critical indicator of the condition of the relationship between the internal and external stakeholders and the organisation. Together with the communication aspects, management issues in the for-profit and non-profit sectors are studied, taking into consideration the extensive changes that corporate communication has undergone over the past century, e.g., the effects of the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) and digitisation.

For government organisations specifically, the responsible management, relationships and communication with government partners and networks are guided by the relevant statutory and regulatory framework. The external stakeholders include the private sector, NGOs, NPOs and the informal sector. In some instances, effective service delivery necessitates the outsourcing of particular operational functions to government partners.

Organisational behaviour and dynamics

The management of leadership, motivation, communication, decision-making, organisational culture, and organisational effectiveness play important roles in the sustainability of organisations. In the contemporary era, stakeholders have more power due to new media (e.g., social media).  This means that stakeholders are holding organisations more accountable for their actions. Internally, it implies that, for instance, traditional human resource management functions such as recruitment and selection, now utilise innovative methods, as opposed to, or in conjunction with traditional methods. In addition, value-driven communication (with both internal and external stakeholders) has also become more important due to new media developments.

Since the management of organisational behaviour and dynamics significantly contribute to the organisational culture, workplace relations, employee wellness, employee performance, and eventual organisational performance, the role and responsibility of leadership in the management, development and motivation of employees is pivotal. It is accepted that organisational success presupposes internal effectiveness and thus, the management of people, power and politics, organisational values, as well as sound communication and decision-making systems and practices, are essential to the achievement of organisational objectives.

Social sustainability

The focus is on local and regional community development and indigenous knowledge systems, and governance for sustainability.

Community development

The focus is on research that takes place in and with communities to bring about social and environmental change towards sustainable community development. There are various important role players that should contribute to sustainable community development, including the communities themselves, the non-profit sector, the profit sector, and the government. A diversity of programmes and projects are researched, developed, implemented, and evaluated by these various role players to contribute to sustainable community development.

Local and regional indigenous knowledge system and philosophies

“Local and indigenous knowledge refers to the understandings, skills and philosophies developed by societies with long histories of interaction with their natural surroundings. Such knowledge is integral to a cultural complex that also encompasses language, systems of classification, resource use practices, social interactions, ritual and spirituality. These unique ways of knowing are important facets of the world’s cultural diversity and provide a foundation of locally appropriate sustainable development” (UNESCO).

Governance for sustainability

This refers to the way in which organisations do business in a responsible and accountable manner to create value for both the organisation and society while protecting the environment. The complexities of sustainability are too vast for single actors to successfully address. The emergence of a network form of governance thus results, implying that a multitude of actors become involved in the ways in which societies organise itself in creating value towards sustainability. In this regard, government institutions, entities and agencies collaborate with international development agencies, private sector enterprises, non-governmental organisations, community-based organisations, and other civil society organisations to address the three dimensions of sustainability, namely people (social), planet (environment) and profit (economy). The dynamics of this network of collaboration is known as ‘governance’ and is maintained by policies, international protocols, treaties, and institutional resource allocation arrangements.

Science of the discipline

The research programme focusses on research investigating and analysing fundamental and philosophical issues underlying in the discipline as well research pertaining to teaching and learning in the discipline.