Ms Nobubele Phuza
Research Assistant

Nobubele Phuza is a Research Assistant in the Chair for Critical Studies in Higher Education Transformation (CriSHET). Over the past three years, she has been immersed in women and gender-focused research and action. Her research brings post structural and postcolonial feminist perspectives on the body, space and time to sport and social justice movements.

In her Masters research, titled Understanding the (re)production and naturalisation of femininity in competitive netball: The case of Nelson Mandela Bay, she complicates the conversation around gender socialisation by problematizing the taken-for-granted cultural practices that are shrouded with a gendered habitus. She focuses on netball, which has reflected and reinforced appropriate ideas of female physicality and a culturally valued femininity. It is socially accepted as an appropriate sport for women, evidenced by its promotion for girls in schools, the number of teams, clubs and leagues in existence and the invisibility of men’s netball in the media and society. Her research argues that the meaning of emphasized femininity and the expected attributes thereof are powerfully presented in the bodily performances that occur in netball. “You learn to be a woman, female bonding, female submission and the like. All while seeming to do nothing but throw a ball around.” The exploration leans heavily on Pierre Bourdieu’s theory of practice and cultural capital and, to some extent, Erving Goffman. She draws on media analysis, observations of netball spaces as well as moving netball bodies to conclude on how netball becomes naturalised as a feminised and heterosexual space.

At CriSHET, she leads a research team that is investigating the complexities within spaces of activism. She is particularly interested in the role of feminist groups and individuals in gendering and/or queering the direction of an entire movement to develop inclusive social activist and civic practices. To investigate such a phenomenon, she interrogates the male bias, which underlies social movements and the type of resistance that is developed as a result. This necessitates a focus on the power dynamics within movements. By analysing the 2015/16 South African students’ movement, #[Fees]MustFall, she makes sense of hierarchies of rights that play out in social movements which, in this context, saw gender as disengaged from economic struggle. She is also committed to understanding the risky and marginalised participation of “the feminine” in movements as a result of bullying, sexual harassment and violence.