Academic journal article Educational Research for Social Change

A Hopeful Participatory Engagement with Rural South African Children

Academic journal article Educational Research for Social Change

A Hopeful Participatory Engagement with Rural South African Children

Article excerpt

Copyright: © 2015 Cherrington

This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution Non-commercial License, which permits unrestricted non-commercial use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.


Positive psychology posits that a prerequisite for positive behaviour change is a sense of hope (Larsen & Stege, 2010; Yohani & Larsen, 2009). Hope as a virtue (Peterson & Seligman, 2004), a desire (Erikson, 1964), an outcome or goal (Snyder, 1994), a human becoming (Parse, 1999), a dynamic life force (Dufault & Martocchio, 1985), or an orientation (Jevne, 2005), exists inseparably from human existence (Stephenson, 1991). Hope or hopefulness is multifaceted and can be expressed as follows: rationally-a cognitive dimension; as a feeling-an affective dimension; and as a way of relating or being-a behavioural dimension (Averill, Catlin, & Chon, 1990; Dufault & Martocchio, 1985; Farran, Herth, & Popovich, 1995). Theories of hope show that how children think about the barriers they face and their access to sources of support can contribute significantly to their sense of hopefulness (Snyder, Lopez, & Shorey, 2003).

Snyder and Lopez (2007, p. 171) remarked that "in the privacy of their personal thoughts, people can imagine wonderful visions of their tomorrows". They can; but what if they don't? According to Snyder (2000), a hopeful person has goal-directed thinking and is able to find the agency and pathways to pursue these goals. But context and circumstances can significantly affect these constructs. In a South African study of national hope levels, Boyce and Harris (2012) concluded that self-perception of one's position in society and status of marginalisation appear to affect individual hope levels. In conditions of poverty, people often perceive otherwise achievable goals as restricted, and their belief in the lack of access to resources or opportunities diminishes their sense of efficacy. Individuals or communities are, therefore, less likely to manifest the motivation or agency necessary to pursue their objectives (Lopez et al., 2000).

Children and adolescents who lack a sense of hope and agency are prone to making poor life choices. Without a vision of future goals, or a belief in themselves to achieve such goals, there is very little reason for children living in the grip of poverty to avoid actions that might cause them further harm in the future (Barnett & Weston, 2008; Burrow, O'Dell, & Hill, 2010). Thus, hope plays a key role in influencing risk decisions, and whether or not a child has hope depends on a range of factors: economic, cultural, social, and psychological. Erikson's (1964) pioneering work on human development posited that hope is based on an infant's early experiences of trusting relationships and her or his cumulative experiences in society. Emerging findings point further to the importance of self-esteem, connectedness, a sense of identity, and social influences on an individual's sense of hope. "Hope has its roots in intrapersonal, interpersonal, and environmental/sociological experiences" (Farran et al., 1995, p. 16). Hope, therefore, develops and exists within an individual, between individuals, and among individuals in a community or society. Within a collective culture, the interconnectedness of these levels is paramount. An individual's development of hope (or hopelessness) is thus largely determined by the presence of hope, or lack thereof, in her or his society.

Despite the promise of freedom, peace, and prosperity, after more than 20 years of democracy South Africa still has the dubious distinction of being an unjust and divided society (Boyce & Harris, 2012). Furthermore, with high numbers of children orphaned or living in dire poverty, it would be easy to think of South Africa as a country steeped in despair. Nonetheless, several studies have shown that children are indeed hopeful despite living in adversity (Adamson & Roby, 2011; Guse & Vermaak, 2011; Herth, 1998; Makome, 2011; Yohani, 2008; Yohani & Larsen 2009). …

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