2: Critical Engagement and SWOP’s Changing Research Tradition

This chapter provides an overview of the research trajectory of the Society, Work and Politics Institute (SWOP) and how this was shaped by its commitment to supporting the labour movement in particular and South Africa’s liberation movement and social movements in general. The chapter maps out the institute’s research traditions as they evolved from the founding of SWOP in the early 1980s up to the contemporary era. Tensions and contradictions involved in a critically engaged research tradition are highlighted. The chapter comments on how the post-apartheid fragmentation of the labour movement subsequently impacted on labour studies itself and how SWOP responded to tensions between researchers and trade unions in flux and under attack in the post-apartheid era. In response to changing relationships with its labour partners, SWOP researchers broadened their research foci to include topics well beyond the scope of labour studies. Over time, the institute became more aware of its location in the Global South and the need to re-evaluate the critical tradition of Northern theory that had shaped its research agenda.

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