The wholistic experiences of knowing as Black South African women at university
: the untold stories from the margins in STEM

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


This thesis sets out to provide a wholistic understanding of Black South African women’s access into and participation through STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) higher education and beyond. My argument employs critical theory, in particular, Fraser’s (1997, 2007, 2008) participatory framework, as well as elements of decolonial and decolonial feminist insights as analytical lenses, accompanied by both Western and African storytelling. Data were collected from a sample of 21 Black South African women who were at any stage of the STEM journey (undergraduate, postgraduate, employment), through an iterative data collection process, taking place over a 10-month period.

The findings of this thesis suggests that Black female STEM access into, through, and beyond higher education, remain nuanced against the backdrop of a highly stratified South African society, whilst juxtaposing how minority female bodies are situated on the social hierarchy. Moreover, the findings suggest that as much as race, class and gender are complexly intertwined with Black South African women’s exclusionary encounters of pursuing STEM, the case for township and rural women presented additional challenges, since coloniality, but also geo-spatiality, in the latter case, remained further articulated in their experiences. In addition, this thesis further demonstrates how critical theory, as well as decolonial and decolonial feminist thought, accompanied by both an African and Western storytelling paradigm, can be employed in tandem in seeking out novel ways to untangle the salient nuances, complexities and tensions in the wholistic South African female STEM journey. Such utilisation involves not only interrogating how inequality manifest in the daily realities of marginalised women in their quest for a role in the STEM field, but further seeks to ascertain how historical injustices remain embedded in such experiences in further intensifying their marginalisation and oppression. Furthermore, the study fills a very important gap in the literature, in that it provides insight into various aspects of Black women’s endeavours in pursuing STEM, taking into consideration how the colonial imbrication of gender at home and at school shape the South African girl child’s encounters in preparing for tertiary studies, how they traverse the neo-liberal and Western higher education terrain as outliers, including how further studies and STEM masculine workplaces have become highly contested spaces, in the midst of a growing increase of minority bodies occupying it’s confines.
Date of AwardJan 2024
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Coventry University
SponsorsLeverhulme Trust
SupervisorSuzanne Clisby (Supervisor), Gurnam Singh (Supervisor), Megan Crawford (Supervisor) & Marina Orsini-Jones (Supervisor)

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