Exploring Resilience and Communicated Narrative Sense-Making in South Africans’ Stories of Apartheid

Haley Kranstuber Horstman, Athena Pedro, Tessa Goldschmidt, Olivia Watson, Maria Butauski


Guided by the communication theory of resilience (CTR) and communicated narrative sense-making (CNSM) theory, this study examines narrative resilience—or retrospective storytelling content that reflects a storyteller’s ability to reintegrate after difficult circumstances—in South Africans’ stories of apartheid. Participants were 17 South Africans who identified as Black, Colored, or Indian and endured the government-sponsored systematic oppression of apartheid. In semistructured interviews, participants told their stories of resilience in the face of the traumas of apartheid. Analyses illuminated four themes of communicated resilience: affirming identity anchor of toughness (i.e., showing strength in the face of adversity), foregrounding productive action (i.e., working to combat apartheid), putting alternative logics to work (i.e., focusing on positivity and hope), and crafting normalcy (i.e., normalizing life in apartheid). These themes support and advance CTR by exploring communicated resilience from a foundation of narrative theorizing and sociocultural understanding. Implications for furthering a social ecological conceptualization of resilience are investigated.


resilience, communicated narrative sense-making, South Africa, apartheid, stories

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