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Social Cohesion

The PII also identified Social Cohesion as a particular area requiring greater focus and attention. As such, an interdisciplinary research project on ‘Building a Cohesive Society in South Africa’ is underway. Social cohesion is perhaps one of the most fundamental policy challenges facing South Africa today. Since its independence and the end of apartheid two decades ago, and despite numerous government interventions, South Africa is yet to emerge as a socially cohesive nation. Social cohesion influences economic and social development, and nurturing a more cohesive society is an important policy goal in itself for any country. Whilst there is a widespread agreement that social cohesion influences economic and social development, and that nurturing a more cohesive society is an important policy goal in itself, there is far less consensus about what constitutes an appropriate definition of social cohesion in a South African context, or about the kinds of policies required to effectively promote a more cohesive society. 

The term “Social Cohesion” has been used loosely in academic literature and political discourse, and its meaning and its mutual dependence with economic development has not been well understood. Without definition, it becomes difficult to assess whether social cohesion has improved or worsened. Without definition and measurement, potential key determinants that are most important among a large number of factors that influence social cohesion (e.g., inequality, poverty, violence, gender conflicts, mistrust, and others) remain obscured, making it difficult to formulate policies that can be expected to materially improve social cohesion and achieve inclusive development most effectively. 

This Social Cohesion theme within the broader PII aims to provide a coherent diagnosis of the state of the nation as regards social cohesion in South Africa, and to promote innovative multidisciplinary research that provides rigorous policy advice to policy makers, planners, activists and community organisations that work to promote social cohesion. Because social cohesion is fundamentally multi-faceted, we take a multidisciplinary approach consisting of history, economics, political science, sociology, law and psychology. 

Through the establishment of an active network of researchers and practitioners whose work speaks to the issue of social cohesion in South Africa, the project aims to:

  • offer researchers and practitioners working in different fields an opportunity to connect, debate and collaborate;
  • promote and enhance the visibility of the wealth of existing work that already exists on Social Cohesion;
  • take seriously the task of translating existing evidence on effective social cohesion interventions into useful policy proposals; and
  • engage effectively with policy makers in achieving the National Development Plan's Vision 2030.

In 2016, a collaborative research project which addressed issues related to inequality and social cohesion in South Africa commenced. Research partners included the French Development Agency (AFD), the Institute of Justice and Reconciliation, and UCT’s PII. The project aimed to address the following research questions:
•    What is the relationship between social cohesion an economic inequality?
•    What kinds of institutional change do we need in order to promote social cohesion and reduce inequality?
•    How do we bridge the growing inter-generational divide? 

The research findings were released at a workshop in early in 2018 and are discussed in several publications such as working papers and policy briefs.  

Visit the social cohesion workshops page.