“…the Power to Change the World”? –: Analysis of Sport-in-Development Programmes in Khayelitsha, South Africa and its Challenges for Research(ers)

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In the last three decades, sport has gained impressive momentum as a tool for development – supported by international, national and local actors. Sport is seen as having the ability to improve social, cultural, educational and psychological circumstances that frame the lives of marginalized and poor communities. Others have been more critically posing questions about the impact of sport to reach the proclaimed goals and about the ways to prove such. To shed light on the often broad and inscrutable sport-in-development field, this study analyses the value of sport for generating or inhibiting development, and which factors of sport-in-development projects in instable environments are decisive for success or failure. Additionally, the study generates knowledge regarding the challenges (Global North) researchers come across when conducting research in sport-in-development projects in poverty-stricken and marginalized areas.
The study is underpinned by a sound theoretical framework. The theory on critical left-realism builds the philosophical superstructure of this study and guides the researcher to consider existing power relations within the society and to assess what can realistically be achieved by sport-in-development programmes regarding individual and wider social development. Building on this, Bronfenbrenner’s bio-ecological theory on human development allows a systematic analysis of factors that influence the individual and the programme as well as their mutual interactions. The social development model complements the theory of human development by exposing a framework that offers further explanatory approaches on how behaviour is coined. It also aims to examine what role sport-in-development programmes and/or sport on its own plays in this regard. The theory of social change furthermore offers an orientation on how change processes may come about and shows that in any case these are not linear and depend on a range of factors that are reciprocally determined. The theory, therefore, presents a flexible approach for the study to uncover and classify change processes.
In-depth data is gathered in and around four sport-in-development projects in Khayelitsha in South Africa over two six-month visits. The major focus is on participants, coaches and significant others as well as the socio-political context. In line with the need for a culture-sensitive and context-specific methodology, an ethnographic approach is adopted that employs a plurality of methods. Participant observation, including informal and formal conversations, as well as general field observations and researchers’ experiences are captured in field notes. A semi-structured interview guideline is used in this study to obtain information that is of major interest in the interviewees’ lives which allows for unanticipated themes to emerge.
The study finds that beneficiaries living in a marginalized community with many socio-economic drawbacks benefit from sport-in-development projects that offer opportunities that are otherwise hardly available – and thereby increase beneficiaries’ well-being, at least during the time the beneficiaries are involved in the project. This positive change is not only found in beneficiaries, but also in the majority of their significant others. Among other reasons, this is due to significant others knowing where the participants and coaches are busy in a safe place. Findings furthermore indicate that when sport-in-development programmes are well-designed and consider a range of enabling factors, programmes can partly influence skill development and behaviour change. Sport itself thereby plays a rather subordinate role. Besides the factors within the programmes, the impact strongly depends on the infrastructural, political and socio-economic circumstances in Khayelitsha that also affect the community. These contextual conditions influence the performance of the programme as well as on the capacity to transfer learnt skills and behaviour into real-life situations. Therefore, any wider impact on other levels than the individual one is the exception and is subject to the individual’s unique biography, contextual circumstances, and structural inequalities. In essence, the study concludes that the high claims of sport being an effective tool for development cannot be met as there is no one-dimensional cause-effect-relationship.
Regarding research in poverty-stricken and marginalized areas, findings indicate that the contextual influences in Khayelitsha strongly impact on the research process. The demands for research – often based on Western thought systems – cannot easily be transferred in the existing environment. Other influential factors for conducting research are the set-ups of the projects and the value placed on research at all levels. Additionally, the privileged background of the researcher, the underlying power structures between the researcher and the researched, the legacy of apartheid, isiXhosa culture, dominant gender ideologies and individual experiences personally challenge the researcher, and therefore influence the research.
Original languageEnglish
Place of PublicationKöln
PublisherDeutsche Sporthochschule Köln
Number of pages368
Publication statusPublished - 19.12.2016


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