Being biracial in post-apartheid South Africa: A theory of dual-identity

Lead Research Organisation: University of Bristol
Department Name: Sch for Policy Studies


The Immorality and Prohibition of Mixed Marriages Amendment Act 1985 repealed South African laws prohibiting marriage and sexual relations between people categorised as white and non-white. Twenty-five years into democracy, the impact of apartheid continues to taint race relations (Durrheim et al., 2011). Though no longer criminalised, many South Africans remain unwilling to accept interracial relationships (Sherman & Steyn, 2009). The term biracial (as opposed to mixed, mixed-race or multiracial (Rocha et al, 2019)) provides a semantic distinction between individuals with parents from two different socially constructed racial categories. This is relevant to the South African context where the country's mixed-race population is uniquely referred to as coloured (Adhikari, 2005; Isaacs-Martin & Petrus, 2012). Coloured identity embodies a cultural history and traditions that biracial people may not have access to (van Rooyen, 2019). The nature of South Africa's racial taxonomy creates a context where biracial individuals are likely to meet the following three conditions for a minimal group (Tajfel et al., 1971). The South African biracial population has no history of its own if it is found that biracial identity is distinct from coloured identity; race, the criterion for differentiation is arbitrary; and biracial groups are unlikely to have face to face contact due to historical segregation patterns caused by the Group Areas Act of 1966 (repealed in 1991) (Tajfel et al., 1971). This study could provide the foundation for the development of a dual-identity theory that is relevant to post-apartheid South Africa.

The study will explore biracial adults' dual-identity socialisation during childhood, adolescence and adulthood. Existing literature on biracial identity demonstrates a progression from an early theoretical emphasis on lineage and hypodescent for racial identity (Park, 1928; Stonequist, 1937) to a contemporary understanding of identity construction distinct from phenotype (Brunsma & Rockquemore, 2001). The study will use a retrospective research design with a hermeneutic phenomenology approach. This philosophical approach will allow for social identity theory to be included as a conceptual framework to understand how participants categorise themselves and define their place in post-apartheid South Africa's racial taxonomy (Husserl, 1970; Tajfel et al., 1971). Virtual interviews will be conducted with 40 biracial adults, who have one white parent and one parent from any of the four South African racial categories (Asian, black African, coloured or Indian) (Mason, 2010). This sample could contribute to an understanding of the problematic white/so-called "nonwhite" dichotomy that underpinned segregation during apartheid (Francis, 2007). Biracial adults aged 18-65 years will be recruited through snowball sampling assisted by a South African non-governmental organisation that conducts outreach programmes with mixed race families (Goodman, 1961). Participants in the 32-65 year age category will be able to provide retrospective accounts of childhood during apartheid. This can be compared with the younger cohort who experienced childhood and matured in post-apartheid South Africa. The data will be analysed using Braun and Clarke's (2006) thematic analysis framework. Findings will be disseminated as a toolkit based on found poems constructed from participant transcripts using poetic inquiry. Poetic inquiry is "a methodological approach that seeks to reveal and communicate multiple truths via intuitive contemplation and creative expression" (Owton, 2017, p. 8). The toolkit will comprise infographic material to improve intergenerational communication related to dual identity. The toolkit content will be age appropriate for developmental stages. This toolkit may be useful for the post-apartheid South African context with potential relevance for regions impacted by colonialism; caste systems; and racial or ethnic hierarchies.


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Studentship Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Student Name
ES/P000630/1 01/10/2017 30/09/2027
2572987 Studentship ES/P000630/1 01/10/2021 30/09/2024 Natasha Van Der Pol