Original Research

Constructing racial hierarchies of skill – Experiencing affirmative action in a South African organisation: A qualitative review

Shanya Reuben, Shaida Bobat
SA Journal of Industrial Psychology | Vol 40, No 1 | a1158 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/sajip.v40i1.1158 | © 2014 Shanya Reuben, Shaida Bobat | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 07 June 2013 | Published: 02 May 2014

About the author(s)

Shanya Reuben, School of Psychology, University of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa
Shaida Bobat, School of Psychology, University of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa


Orientation: Apartheid in South Africa constructed racial, economic, social and political segregation, the consequences of which are still experienced today. Government has made concerted efforts to ‘deracialise’ South Africa, most notably through affirmative action (AA) measures.

Research purpose: This study aimed to explore employees’ social constructions of AA in a South African organisation.

Motivation for the study: Research in this field focuses mostly on attitudinal perspectives of AA with an emphasis on traditional approaches. Subjective, contextualised approaches to AA have received little attention. Thus, this study aimed to critically engage with the embodied nature of prejudice, particularly in reference to how we understand and experience AA.

Research approach, design and method: This study aimed to explore AA from a social constructionist orientation, using semi-structured interviews. More specifically, this study used Potter and Wetherell’s discursive psychology.

Main findings: The findings illustrate how participants engage in discursive devices that continue to rationalise a racial order of competence. Ultimately, AA is a controversial subject that traverses many segments of life for all South Africans.

Practical/managerial implications: The findings contribute to the discipline of industrial psychology, particularly with regard to policies around preferential treatment, and can add value to the ways in which organisational policy documents are conceptualised. The findings also suggest the importance of developing an inclusive, non-discriminatory organisational culture.

Contribution/value-add: This approach adds to the existing body of knowledge around the embodied nature of prejudice. The study’s methodology highlights the value of studying context in meaning-making and implied inferences that underlie talk.


Affirmative Action; Discourse; Social Constructionism; South Africa; discourse analysis


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