Dissertation Abstracts

Women in Mining: Occupational Culture and Gendered Identities in the Making

Author: Benya, Asanda P, asanda.benya@gmail.com
Department: Sociology
University: University of the Witwatersrand (Wits), South Africa
Supervisor: Bridget Kenny
Year of completion: In progress
Language of dissertation: English

Keywords: Women in Mining , Identity , Subjectivities , Labour
Areas of Research: Work , Labor Movements , Women in Society


Mining culture and mine work has been portrayed as masculine and not fit for women especially the humid, dirty, noisy, hazardous and physical underground work. The occupational culture, up to now, has been defined by masculinity and has involved certain levels of risk taking, reliance on tacit knowledge and high levels of gendered and raced solidarity among underground workers (black men).

The introduction of women to underground work in South African mines therefore fundamentally challenges this culture and the ways in which the mining labour market has operated in the past and how it has been theorised.

This research project investigates how women entering this labour market have responded to this traditionally masculine environment; how they understand themselves against the prevailing masculine mining culture and the meanings they attach to their experiences at work and in the reproduction sphere? I want to explore what kinds of femininities are invoked in different workplaces and how women understand themselves in light of them? What meanings do they attach to these gender identities given to them or constructed by them? I want to understand how experiences within the workplace relate to their broader experiences in other social spaces with family, friends and community at larger?

The aim of the project is to understand what happens when socially and artificially constructed boundaries of gender division of labour have been crossed as women in mining seem to be doing with their entry into the underground mining labour market.

To get at this, I employ participant observation, using my body as the instrument for data collection and I complement it with life histories. For a period of fourteen months, between 2008 and 2012 I lived with mine-workers and also worked as a general labourer and later as a winch operator in a Platinum underground mine in Rustenburg, South Africa. This allowed me to explore in depth the questions above about identity construction. Spending an extend amount of time has been beneficial in that it has allowed me to distinguish between exceptions and routines in women’s everyday lives both at work and at home.

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