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Shifting the Narrative

Changing mindsets about rights & the economy in South Africa

Shifting the Narrative


South Africa


The deeply entrenched narrative that the free market is better equipped than the State to distribute resources efficiently is a huge obstacle to transforming the economy. Despite mountains of evidence proving it false, this story has stuck.

Shifting the Narrative is a project by CESR, the Fight Inequality Alliance South Africa (FIA), and University of Johannesburg’s Centre for Social Change (CSC), that is building new ways of talking about the economy and its links to human rights. By developing and testing new ways of framing this issue, we aim to increase public support for progressive economic policies that allow everyone to live with dignity.

How we talk about issues has deep impacts on the attitudes we hold and what we perceive as possible. Research shows that humans aren’t  completely rational beings that respond only to facts, the parts of our brains that relate to emotions and instincts also help us make sense of the world. Precisely the parts that stories deeply influence. Who holds power is shaped by, and shapes, dominant narratives, which is what makes narratives an important tool in struggles for economic justice.  

A collective endeavor

Shifting the Narrative is a participatory, collaborative, and action-oriented project. Social movement activists and community leaders play a central role in the research process.

Our reference group and broader affiliates network, composed of over 30 civil society and social movements activists, are supporting our efforts to find out what counter-narratives are effective in sparking new ways of thinking among the public and exploring ways to build greater alignment in the narrative strategies they use.

In addition, we count on the technical support of Frameworks Institute, a leading nonprofit research think tank that helps mission-driven organizations build public will for progressive change.

The steps

1) Understanding the current narrative landscape

Through interviews, surveys, and media discourse analysis, we mapped which ideas are the most pervasive in current narratives around the economy and human rights. See the a summary of our findings here.

2) Exploring alternatives

We’re developing alternative narratives that can shift mindsets about what the economy is for and testing their impact and efficacy.

3. Implementation

A network of social movement activists and civil society organizations in South Africa applies the new messaging in their work, accompanied by the project team.

4. Sharing our learning

We’ll share our findings with allies and partners, both within South Africa and in different countries and regions.