A social-ecological investigation of African youths' resilience processes
Van Rensburg, Angelique Christina
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Resilience is defined as doing well despite significant hardships. Based on four principles informing a social-ecological definition of resilience (that is, decentrality, complexity, a typicality, and cultural relativity), Ungar (2011, 2012) hypothesised an explanation of social-ecological resilience. Seen from this perspective, resilience involves active youthsocial-ecological transactions towards meaningful, resilience-promoting supports. Youths’ usage of these supports might differ due to, among others, specific lived experiences, contextual influences, and youths’ subjective perceptions. While Ungar’s explanation is both popular and plausible, it has not been quantitatively tested, also not in South Africa. Moreover, there is little quantitatively informed evidence about youths’ differential resource-use, particularly when youth share a context and culture, and how such knowledge might support social ecologies to facilitate resilience processes. The overall purpose of this study was, therefore, to investigate black South African youths’ resilience processes from a social-ecological perspective, using a sample of black South African youth. This purpose was operationalised as sub-aims (explained below) that addressed the aforementioned gaps in theory. Data to support this study were accessed via the Pathways to Resilience Research Project (see www.resilienceresearch.org), of which this study is part. The Pathways to Resilience Research Project investigates the social-ecological contributions to youths’ resilience across cultures. This study consists of three manuscripts. Using a systematic literature review, Manuscript 1 evaluated how well quantitative studies of South African youth resilience avoided the pitfalls made public in the international critiques of resilience studies. For the most part, quantitative studies of South African youth resilience did not mirror international developments of understanding resilience as a complex socio-ecologically facilitated process. The results identified aspects of quantitative studies of South African youth resilience that necessitated attention. In addition, the manuscript called for quantitative studies that would statistically explain the complex dynamic resilience-supporting transactions between South African youths and their contexts. Manuscript 2 answered the aforementioned call by grounding its research design in a theoretical framework that respected the sociocultural life-worlds of South African youth (that is, Ungar’s Social-Ecological Explanation of Resilience). Ungar’s Social-Ecological Explanation of Resilience was modelled using latent variable modelling in Mplus 7.2, with data gathered with the Pathways to Resilience Youth Measure by 730 black South African school-going youth. The results established that South African youths adjusted well to challenges associated with poverty and violence because of resilience processes that were co-facilitated by social ecologies. It was, furthermore, concluded that school engagement was a functional outcome of the resilience processes among black South African youth. Manuscript 2 also provided evidence that an apposite, necessary, and respectful education contributed towards schooling as a meaningful resource. Manuscript 3 provided deeper insight into aspects of black South African youths’ resilience processes. Manuscript 3 investigated youths’ self-reported perceptions of resilience-promoting resources by means of data gathered by the Pathways to Resilience Youth Measure. Consequently, two distinct groups of youth from the same social ecology made vulnerable by poverty were compared (that is, functionally resilient youth, n = 221; and formal service-using youth, n = 186). Measurement invariance, latent mean differences in Mplus 7.2, and analyses of variance in SPSS 22.0 were employed. What emerged was that positive perceptions of caregiving (that is, physical and psychological) were crucial to youths’ use of formal resilience-promoting resources and subsequent functional outcomes. The conclusions resulted in implications for both caregivers and practitioners.
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