Professor Vaughn Mitchell John

Troubling Violence: A Praxis for Transformative Learning


Violence has come to dominate the South African consciousness. This lecture offers insights from a career of developing peace education and scholarship in a context of endemic violence. I will engage with dual notions of troubling violence. First, I examine the multiple ways in which violence has come to characterise life and learning in South Africa. Long histories of violence are troubling because of the dehumanisation and desensitisation violence promotes and the new cycles of violence thus engendered. Switching focus from analysis to action, I will then discuss interventions which allow educators to trouble the normalisation and inevitability of violence through creative and transformative practices and partnerships. Here, the emphasis will be on how the development of a powerful praxis through productive relationships across community engagement, teaching and research can generate transformative learning, humanising pedagogy and critical scholarship.

Curriculum Vitae



Professor Vaughn Mitchell John

BA, BA (Hons), MA (Cum Laude), PhD (UKZN)

Vaughn Mitchell John (PhD) is a Professor in the School of Education at the University of KwaZulu-Natal. After training as a research psychologist, he worked as a researcher and then lecturer in the University’s Centre for Adult Education, where he later served as director and discipline leader for many years.

Vaughn’s early research career involved applied and policy-oriented research in an externally-funded project at the then University of Natal (UN). This focused on the political violence in Natal and supporting communities and organisations affected by this state-sponsored war. Most of this research appeared as reports used by local and international media, law firms, humanitarian organisations and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. This initial period also included research in preparation for the democratic era in South Africa, with involvement in more than twenty large studies commissioned by organisations such as the Constitutional Assembly, Truth and Reconciliation Commission, Department of Education, Joint Education Trust, Oxfam and the United Nation High Commissioner for Refugees.

Once in a formal academic position, Vaughn initiated several peace education and research programmes straddling both the academy and broader community. As a member of a Standards Generating Body he chaired a national task team which developed South Africa’s first qualification on conflict transformation. He also served on an international task team which developed a masters programme for the United Nation’s University for Peace. He served two terms as co-convener of the Peace Education Commission of the International Peace Research Association (IPRA) and is a founding member and trustee of the KZN Network of the Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP).

Professor John’s more recent research has focused on peace education and transformative learning. This work has been disseminated via thirty seven peer-reviewed publications in the form of books, book chapters and journal articles and more than fifty conference presentations. He is an NRF-rated researcher and recipient of eight grants for research and community education projects. He has supervised five PhD and twelve Masters students to completion.


2009               Doctor of Philosophy (Adult Education), UKZN.            

1996               Master of Arts (Psychology), (Cum laude), University of Natal.                      

1987               Bachelor of Arts Honours (Psychology), University of Natal.                            

1986               Bachelor of Arts (Psychology & Sociology), University of Natal.                      

University Appointments

2019               Professor, UKZN

2018               Associate Professor, UKZN

2007               Senior Lecturer, UKZN

2000-2005     Director, Centre for Adult Education, UKZN

1988               Lecturer, University of Natal

1986-1987     Research Assistant, University of Natal

Recent Awards and Honours

Excellence in Teaching Award, College of Humanities, 2018

Excellence in Research, School of Education, 2018 

Excellence in Community Engagement, School of Education, 2018

Excellence in Teaching Portfolio, School of Education, 2018

Research Excellence Award, College of Humanities, 2017

NRF Rated Researcher, 2017

Recent Publications

John, V.M. (2019) ‘Are We Still Running?’: Violent Migration to Violent Refuge. The Round Table, 108:1, 37-47.

John, V.M. (2018) Peace Education in Post-Apartheid South Africa: Needs, Responses, and Constraints. Asian Journal of Peacebuilding, 6 (1), 55-74.

John, V.M. and Cox, A.J. (2018) Fostering life-altering change amongst South African youth through non-formal education, Cogent Education, 5 (1), 1-16.

John, V.M. (2018) Teaching Peace Education at a South African University, Peace Review, 30 (1) 53-61.

John, V.M. (2018) South Africa’s Alternatives to Violence Project: Harmonizing Theory and Practice. In V. Jain and M. Meyer (Eds.) Connecting Contemporary African-Asian Peacemaking and Nonviolence: From Satagraha to Ujamaa, 240-258, Newcastle: Cambridge Scholars Publishing.

John, V.M. (2018) The complexities and challenges of community development in post-conflict South Africa: a systems framework of a project. In S. Kenny, B. McGrath and R. Phillips (Eds.), The Routledge Handbook of Community Development, 382-397, London: Routledge. 

John, V.M. (2017) Building peace, solidarity and hope in Africa through popular education. In von Kotze, A. and Walters, S (Eds.) Forging Solidarity: Popular Education at Work, 59-70. Rotterdam: Sense Publishers.

John, V.M. (2017) Understanding displaced and refugee groups in South Africa. Peace Review, 29 (1), 7-14.

John, V.M. (2016) Transformative learning challenges in a context of trauma and fear: an educator’s story. Australian Journal of Adult Learning, 56 (2), 268-289.

John, V.M. (2016) The dangers of educated girls and women. Education, Citizenship and Social Justice, 11(2), 184-196.

Cox, A.J. and John, V.M. (2016) Transformative Learning in Post-Apartheid South Africa: Disruption, Dilemma and Direction. Adult Education Quarterly, 66(4): 303-318.  .

John, V.M. (2016) Peace Profile: The Alternatives to Violence Project. Peace Review, 28 (3), 369-375.

John, V.M. (2016) Using conflict mapping to foster peace-related learning and change in schools. Education as Change, 20 (2): 221-242.

John, V.M. (2016) Up close and personal: theorising care work in adult education. Research Papers in Education, 31(3): 337-351. 

John, V.M. (2015) Working Locally, Connecting Globally: The Case of the Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP). Journal of Peacebuilding & Development, 10 (2), 81-86. 

Twine, B. and John, V.M. (2015) Picturing community development work in Uganda: fostering dialogue through photovoice. Community Development Journal, 50 (2), 196-212.  

Rule, P. and John, V.M. (2015). A necessary dialogue: theory in case study research. International Journal of Qualitative Methods, 14 (4), 1-11.