Journal of Social Development in Africa

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Examining belonging at the interface of ethnicity, social status and masculinities in transnational space among foreign African male students at the University of KwaZulu-Natal

Janet. M. Muthuki


Globalisation of trade, finance and production as well as the on going processes of political and economic integration has led to an unprecedented increase in international migration. Increased mobilities in the current global state have led to a need for new understandings of identity and belonging as mobile subjects transcend national borders and forge and sustain multi- stranded social relations that link together their societies of origin and settlement. The negotiation of such transnational spatial configurations has posed a challenge to classical notions of belonging in which people and their identities were often seen as rooted in a physical place. This transnational space has consequently opened up various ways of addressing issues of belonging or not belonging. This paper begins by reflecting on the various approaches that have attempted to define the complex phenomenon of belonging as well as the politics of belonging as specific political projects aimed at constructing belonging in particular ways and particular collectivities. Using the concepts of social locations and power geometries and employing in depth interviews, this paper analyses how foreign African male students studying in a South African tertiary institution mobilised their ethnicity as a resource for negotiating belonging, social status and masculinity. The findings of the study reveal that as a reaction to the dominant local South African the male students sought to negotiate their sense of belonging and social status through ethnic group identification, drawing on traditional leadership positions as well as on traditional rites of passage. The article thus examines the interface of social status, ethnicity and masculinity in negotiating belonging in the transnational space.

Keywords: Belonging, Ethnicity, Social Status, Masculinity, Transnational space

AJOL African Journals Online