Race in South Africa

One of the more difficult challenges facing social scientists in post-apartheid South Africa is the measurement of inter-‘racial’ relations. Self-reported experiences, observation of actual inter-racial interactions and experimental research (including ‘survey experiments’ involving the use of vignettes in surveys) have all provided insights. In 2013 we used a new method – the ‘imitation game’ – developed by sociologist Harry Collins and colleagues at Cardiff University in the UK.

The imitation game provides a quantifiable and comparable measure of everyday cultural difference. In its most basic form, each Imitation Game involves three participants linked anonymously through computers. One participant (the ‘judge’) and a second participant (the ‘non-pretender’) are members of one social group (racial group, in our research). The third participant (the ‘pretender’) is not, but pretends to be, a member of this group. The judge knows that one of the other players is a member of the same group, and the other is not, but the judge does not know which is which. The objective of the game is to establish whether pretenders succeed in fooling judges or whether judges are able to distinguish pretenders from non-pretenders. The game involves judges asking questions of the other two participants in order to identify which is the pretender and which is the non-pretender.

More than one thousand students played the Imitation Game in 2012-13, and a further 500 played in 2014. The data will allow an empirical test of W.E.B. du Bois’s classic hypothesis about the ‘double consciousness’ of subordinate racial groups in a racially-divided society.

Project manager: Rebecca Maughan-Brown

Researcher: Jeremy Seekings

Funders: University of Cardiff and UCT Deputy Vice-Chancellor’s Fund

Publications: pending