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Floretta Boonzaier is a Senior Lecturer in Psychology at the University of Cape Town. She completed her PhD at the University of Cape Town in which she explored couples’ co-construction of narratives of intimate partner violence. Her primary research areas include psychological aspects of gender based violence, the intersections of raced, classed and gendered subjectivities, and a focus on the social construction of femininities and masculinities within the post-apartheid South African context. She has published on gender-based violence, both nationally and internationally and she is co-editor of the first South African psychology text on gender, entitled The Gender of Psychology (2006).
Psychology, relevance and gender-based violence in South Africa
Psychology as a discipline, psychological knowledge and the production thereof, has historically served the interests of particular dominant groups in societies. South African psychology has been critiqued for being complicit during the apartheid regime and for contributing to and reinforcing its ideologies of white supremacy. From the early 1980’s debates about the relevance of psychology in South African society have emerged. Progressive psychologists drew attention to the discipline’s racist past and its complicity in maintaining the status quo. A key question emerging from the ‘relevance’ debates was: How can psychology respond to the socio-political challenges and concerns facing the post-apartheid state? One such concern is the magnitude of gender-based violence. The post-apartheid South African constitution has been lauded as one of the most progressive in the world. In it the rights of all South African citizens are enshrined. However, although legal protection is afforded to victims of gender-based violence high levels of violence remain common in the lives of many South African women. South Africa has been described as the ‘rape capital’ of the world and has, at one time, been cited as having one of the highest rates of rape and intimate femicide. This project aims to critically reflect both on the discipline of Psychology in South Africa and its response to the magnitude of gender-based violence in the contemporary context. Two broad questions characterise the scope of this project:
1. What issues or concerns have mainstream psychologists regarded as ‘relevant’ to the discipline in the post-apartheid context? How ‘relevant’ are these issues in responding to the contemporary socio-political challenges facing the country?
2. What role has Psychology played in conceptualising interventions for domestically violent men? At a conceptual level, have such interventions taken the complexities of gender-based violence in the post-apartheid South African context into account?