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Washington University

Publication Date

Spring 2015

Program Name

South Africa: Social and Political Transformation


Schools have the potential to cultivate a sense of social responsibility among students. Because students from privileged backgrounds are often removed from the oppression of structural injustice, it may be more difficult to cultivate a sense of social responsibility among these students. This study explores how social class affects students’ constructions of social responsibility by assessing how students perceive privilege, structural injustice, and social responsibility. Interviews were conducted with four white, male, Grade 11 students at Westville Boys’ High School, a former Model C school with a large percentage of students from upper-middle socioeconomic backgrounds. In addition, observations were conducted with a Life Orientations class section that addressed social issues. The study revealed that the participants’ desire to maintain a positive self-image prevented them from fully acknowledging the role structural injustice has in perpetuating the cycle of poverty. Instead, students supported the myth of meritocracy by placing much of the onus on the individual to escape the cycle of poverty. In order to encourage the development of social responsibility among privileged youth, schools should foster dialogue and spaces for students to explore social structures, the link between privilege and oppression, and social responsibility.


African Studies | Civic and Community Engagement | Community-Based Research | Demography, Population, and Ecology | Experimental Analysis of Behavior | Family, Life Course, and Society | Inequality and Stratification | Place and Environment | School Psychology


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