College of Humanities

Unsettling Paradigms – the Decolonial Turn in the Humanities Curriculum in South Africa

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The College of Humanities hosted a virtual colloquium on Bridging the Oppressive Divide between the Humanities, Arts and Technology towards An Interdisciplinary Curriculum for Redress and Spatial Transformation in post-apartheid South Africa.

The colloquium was part of the Unsettling Paradigms – the Decolonial Turn in the Humanities Curriculum in South Africa pilot project headed by its principal investigator Dr Yashaen Luckan, of the School of Built Environment and Development Studies, who was awarded an Andrew W Mellon Foundation grant.

‘The ultimate outcome of the project is to implement a pedagogically accessible postgraduate interdisciplinary curriculum for socio-economic redress and spatial transformation in South Africa. Our School provides an ideal base for interdisciplinary conversations and debates on contextually responsive curricula and alternate pedagogies,’ said Luckan.

Planned outcomes of the project include colloquia on decolonisation of the humanities curriculum. These will bring scholars, practitioners and community activists together in a safe space of (re)constructive critical contestation.

Dean and Head of the School of Built Environment and Development Studies Professor Ernest Khalema presented an overview of the project and its critical position in the broader context of Higher Education. He highlighted the challenges facing communities in the Global South and the role of decoloniality in Higher Education to effect social change.

Professor Oliver Mtapuri’s (UKZN) presentation focussed on Unshackling epistemic slavery. He noted that, ‘The domination and hegemony of the west over knowledge production have left African intellectuals in a state of paralysis – evident in not engaging, teaching, and researching on matters that are of importance in ordinary citizens’ lives and finding lasting solutions to them. Through the production of our theories and paradigms, Africans can liberate themselves from present odious scholarly and scientific slavery from which many African scholars require unshackling.’

Professor Iain Low (University of Cape Town) looked at Space and Transformation – Architecture in an age of [radical] change. ‘We must respond to the challenges of theory and proffer the means to a reconfigured architecture wherein the certainty of type and its extractive financialised underpinnings is challenged by new collective forms of being, in direct support of an integrative societal change. The production of locality is akin to the rewriting of architectural type.’

Professor Ariane Janse Van Rensburg (University of the Witwatersrand) highlighted the slow rate of transformation in the architectural profession in South Africa. She noted that, ‘economically, as long as architectural professionals are mainly privately employed and earn a cost-based fee, high-cost high-tech building will be perpetuated.’ She also reported on  a research project at the Wits School of Architecture and Planning on students’ architectural aspirations and what decolonisation meant to them.

Professor Saras Reddy (UKZN) focused on community engagement as central in transforming Higher Education curricula. ‘Both the institution and students have to confront the contradictions of western knowledge while affirming and reclaiming lived experiences from local contexts in order to embrace competing ways of knowing as producers of transformative knowledge.’ She validated experiential learning as knowledge that is fundamental.

Dr Debbie Whelan (University of Lincoln–UK) looked at changing pedagogy in the Global North. ‘Decolonisation is not only a contemporary challenge in South Africa. In Britain there are increased calls for decolonised thinking, and moves towards decolonised curricula. At the University of Lincoln, university level committees have begun to address these issues through a shift in the composition of the curriculum to allow for exploration through different and diverse lenses with a greater humanities-rich focus.’

Dr Mark Olweny (University of Lincoln–UK) discussed the Challenge of Sameness in Architecture Education, reflecting on how it may be ‘possible to critique exiting modes of education and practices while developing pedagogical approaches that are able to address the lived experiences of an increasingly diverse student population with experiences and worldviews that are not readily found in the existing educational approaches.’

Professor Hangwelani Magidimisha-Chipungu and Mr Samuel Medayese (UKZN) examined the construct of the decolonisation of the educational curriculum for Humanities, bringing to the fore the problems and the ideological positions for the decolonial turn in this curriculum in South Africa.

They argued that South Africa must tackle and dismantle the epistemic violence and hegemony of Eurocentrism, completely rethink, reframe and reconstruct the curriculum and place South Africa, Southern Africa, and Africa at the centre of teaching, learning and research. ‘The movement to radically transform and decolonise Higher Education must find ways to hold institutions accountable and maintain the non-violent and intellectual struggle until epistemic violence and Eurocentrism are dismantled,’ they said.

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