The University Record, April 8, 1997

Goal of ISR training program for South Africans: overcome 'legacy of distortion'

By Diane Swanbrow
News and Information Services

The Institute for Social Research (ISR) will begin training South Africans in social science research methods this summer, with funding from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

The three-year pilot program, developed with the Human Sciences Research Council in Pretoria, South Africa, aims to train South Africans, especially Blacks or women, to carry out state-of-the-art social and behavioral science research.

"The apartheid era in South Africa introduced many distortions into census and population-based surveys conducted by government agencies," notes David L. Featherman, ISR director and principal investigator of the project.

"This legacy of distortion handicaps contemporary democratization at a moment when rapid and profound changes demand careful scientific analysis of population trends and socioeconomic inequalities.

"Until such time as the social science research capacity of democratic South Africa assumes a commanding voice in measuring and interpreting social, economic and political trends, including data from the 1996 South African census, the issues of legitimacy and credibility of `social facts' may remain unresolved."

Together with ISR, the training program is being designed by the Population Studies Center, directed by economics Prof. David A. Lam, the South Africa Initiative Office, psychology Prof. Oscar Barbarin, and the Centre for Science Development at the Human Sciences Research Council of South Africa, directed by philosophy Prof. Mala Singh.

"Dr. Singh will oversee and implement the selection of South African participants," notes Featherman, "while Michigan faculty will serve as mentors and potential research collaborators."

Starting June 2, up to 15 South African scholars will begin their training in the Survey Research Center's 1997 Summer Institute in Survey Research Techniques and in the Inter-University Consortium for Political and Social Research (ICPSR) Summer Program in Quantitative Methods.

Management of the program will be provided by James Lepkowski, associate research scientist at the Survey Research Center, and Henry Heitowit, program manager at the ISR Center for Political Studies.