Rethinking professional identity formation amidst protests and social upheaval: a journey in Africa

Mantoa Mokhachane*, Ann George, Tasha Wyatt, Ayelet Kuper, Lionel Green-Thompson

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


The under-representation of minoritized or previously oppressed groups in research challenges the current universal understanding of professional identity formation (PIF). To date, there has been no recognition of an African influence on PIF, which is crucial for understanding this phenomenon in places like South Africa, a society in which the inequity of the apartheid era still prevails. In addition, there is little data examining how social upheaval could impact PIF. This study uses interviews with medical students to explore PIF within the context of social upheaval during the 2015–2016 protests that rocked South Africa when students challenged asymmetries of power and privilege that persisted long after the country’s democratic transition. The combination of the primary author’s autoethnographic story, weaved into the South African sociohistorical context and ubuntu philosophy, contributes to this study of PIF in the South African context. The use of an African metaphor allowed the reorientation of PIF to reflect the influence of an ubuntu-based value system. Using the calabash as a metaphor, participants’ experiences were framed and organized in two ways: a calabash worldview and the campus calabash. The calabash worldview is a multidimensional mixture of values that include ubuntu, reflections of traditional childhoods, and the image of women as igneous rocks, which recognizes the power and influence on PIF of the women who raised the participants. Introducing an African ubuntu-based perspective into the PIF discourse may redirect the acknowledgement of context and local reality in developing professional identity.

Original languageEnglish
JournalAdvances in Health Sciences Education
Early online date27 Oct 2022
StateE-pub ahead of print - 27 Oct 2022
Externally publishedYes


  • #Fees-Must-Fall
  • African metaphor
  • Calabash
  • Professional identity formation
  • Social upheaval
  • South Africa
  • Students’ protests
  • Ubuntu


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