Original Research

Views from the margins: Theorising the experiences of black working-class students in academic development in a historically white South African university

Mlamuli N. Hlatshwayo, Kehdinga G. Fomunyam
The Journal for Transdisciplinary Research in Southern Africa | Vol 15, No 1 | a591 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/td.v15i1.591 | © 2019 Mlamuli N. Hlatshwayo, Kehdinga G. Fomunyam | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 14 July 2018 | Published: 23 July 2019

About the author(s)

Mlamuli N. Hlatshwayo, Education and Curriculum Studies, School of Education, University of KwaZulu-Natal, Pinetown, South Africa
Kehdinga G. Fomunyam, Discipline of Curriculum and Education Studies and Higher Education, Durban University of Technology, Durban, South Africa


A significant amount of South African literature on academic development often focuses on the ideological and theoretical shifts that have occurred within the academic development field across different periods in the country – tracing different phases within the field, broadly termed, ‘academic support’, ‘academic development’ and ‘higher education development’. One of the gaps that have been identified in this literature is often the silence regarding the experiences of the black students themselves in academic development, and to what extent being in the programme has made a difference to their university experiences. This article attempts to fill this gap by critically exploring and theorising the complex experiences of black working-class South African students in an academic development programme in a historically white higher education institution. To effectively make sense of their experiences, French philosopher Pierre Bourdieu’s theory on capital was employed in this article. Participants were purposely recruited using snowball sampling and 32 black working-class students participated in the study. The findings of this study suggest that academic development in a historically white university is a complex field of forces that require further critical interrogation and theorisation. Students’ experiences of academic development are often complex and at times contradictory with some seeing the value of the programme, and others rejecting it and looking at it as an extension of their marginality in a historically white higher education institution.


Academic development; higher education; black students; historically white university; Bourdieu; capital.


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