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Emancipatory Imaginations: Winter School

Updated: Sep 8, 2020

Held in 2019 in South Africa [1], a Winter School provided flexible, iterative and creative spaces to facilitate deliberation, with a number of roundtable discussions on key themes and entanglements in relation to Critical University Studies.

Roundtable 1– Reimagining

the University

This Winter School brings together scholars, practitioners and policy makers to challenge and ‘denaturalize the dominant higher education imaginary’ (Stein 2018, p.1). Key to the ‘ideas’ of the Winter School is the prospect of ‘other’ ways to study universities that are meaningfully different from the various strands of conventional higher education studies; and to open up the possibilities of thinking plural forms of emancipatory higher education imaginations and futures.

Contributors: Xoliswa Mtose is the Vice- Chancellor of the University of Zululand in South Africa; Chris Brink served as Vice-Chancellor of Newcastle University in the UK from 2007 – 2016; Ahmed Bawa is Chief Executive Officer of Universities South Africa (USAf). This roundtable was chaired by Nobubele Phuza, a Research Assistant in the Chair for Critical Studies in Higher Education Transformation (CriSHET).


Roundtable 2 – The SDGs, African Universities and ‘Emancipatory Imaginations’

The United Nations Development Programme’s Sustainable Development Goals are a call to ‘end poverty, protect the planet and ensure that all people enjoy peace and prosperity’. They offer a possible external referent that has the ‘common good’ in mind that is not about commodification, much as humanitarian and human rights agendas have offered. Currently, there is a renewed call for higher education institutions to be drivers of the SDGs, with related funding opportunities. However, in what ways do the SDGs envisage/construct a role for universities to drive social change? Is this ‘common’ developmental agenda a radical or domesticating impulse, and whose interests does it serve? How might is impact knowledge and social production in ‘developing’ countries?

Contributors: Su-ming Khoo is a Lecturer in Political Science and Sociology, and Research Cluster Lead of the Whitaker Institute: Environment, Development and Sustainability and Ryan Institute: Socio-Economic Impact Research Clusters at NUI Galway. Winnie V. Mitullah is a Research Professor of Development Studies (IDS) based at the Institute for Development Studies, University of Nairobi. This roundtable was chaired by Professor Ihron Rensburg, who is Chairperson of the South Africa National UNESCO Commission, Advisor to the Principal and Visiting Professor at Kings College London, Honorary Professor at Nelson Mandela University.


Roundtable 3 – What might be the shape of CUS in the ‘Global North’? Can it produce ‘emancipatory imaginations’ of use for its own social justice project and that of the ‘Global South’?

The global imaginary of higher education is, to a large extent, a colonial/modern imaginary. A dominant version of CUS emerging within the ‘Global North’ is premised on the idea of a ‘good’ University that once existed in the past; and that is in the main being eroded by neoliberalism’s managerialism. It seems to displace questions of a broader social justice import, such as to racism, classicism and sexism within the academy, amongst other challenges of exclusion and misrecognition that it ‘ignores’. Further, it appears to be silent on the need for a ‘decolonial’ project within higher education in the ‘Global North’. How can these apparent blind spots be addressed, and in what ways can it articulate with higher education transformation project in the ‘Global South’?

Contributors: Tony Gallagher is Professor of Education and former Head of the School of Education, Pro Vice Chancellor and Acting Faculty Dean of Research for Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences at Queen's University Belfast. Encarnación Gutiérrez Rodríguez is Professor and Chair in General Sociology at the Justus-LiebigUniversity-Giessen, Germany. Shirley Anne Tate is a Professor of Race and Education at Leeds Beckett University and Honorary Professor at Nelson Mandela University in the Chair for Critical Studies in Higher Education Transformation. Michalinos Zembylas is Professor of Educational Theory and Curriculum Studies at the Open University of Cyprus and an Honorary Professor at Nelson Mandela University in the Chair for Critical Studies in Higher Education Transformation. This roundtable was chaired by Michael Cross, who is Professor, Founder and Director of the Ali Mazrui Centre for Higher Education Studies at the University of Johannesburg in South Africa.


Roundtable 4 – In what ways do the dominant discursive fields of higher education constrain the renewal and transformation of the academy?

Stein (2018, p.1) argues that at present the possible futures of University have been ‘significantly narrowed’ and that the options on offer ‘also appear increasingly unsustainable and unethical’. Such options, which undercut the radical transformation of universities, are encoded within higher education policy and practice, and programmed within the philosophies, orientations and praxes of agencies such as government departments, research councils, university associations, foundations and statutory councils responsible for funding, oversight and quality assurance. This is the case in South Africa, and elsewhere. In other words, the system is locked into discursive fields that produce particular meanings of the principles of transformation: simulating change on the one hand, and justifying and legitimising systemically-anchored discriminatory outcomes on the other. How does this ‘state of affairs’ thwart the renewal of the academy?

Contributors: Sioux McKenna is Professor and Director of Postgraduate Studies at Rhodes University where she runs a number of support initiatives for supervisors and scholars. Qawekazi Maqabuka is Sociology lecturer in the department of Sociology, Anthropology (including History) at Nelson Mandela University. PhD candidate at the University of the Western Cape. Kopano Ratele is Professor in the Institute of Social and Health Sciences at the University of South Africa (UNISA); and researcher in the South African Medical Research Council-UNISA Violence, Injury & Peace Research Unit. This roundtable was chaired by André Keet, who is an Education Professor and holds the research chair in Critical Studies in Higher Education Transformation at Nelson Mandela University.


Umrabulo [2]: Reflections on emerging themes on Critical University Studies

Across the days interactions, participants of the Winter School offered shorter reflections and contributions on each roundtable (as captured in the recordings). This particular recordings has a more specific and sustained engagement on emerging reflections from the two day interactions.

Contributors: Shirley Anne Tate is a Professor of Race and Education at Leeds Beckett University and Honorary Professor at Nelson Mandela University in the Chair for Critical Studies in Higher Education Transformation. Michalinos Zembylas is Professor of Educational Theory and Curriculum Studies at the Open University of Cyprus and an Honorary Professor at Nelson Mandela University in the Chair for Critical Studies in Higher Education Transformation. These reflections were chaired by Dina Zoe Belluigi, who is a Senior Lecturer in Critical Higher Education Studies at Queen’s University Belfast.


Roundtable 5 – Emancipatory Imaginations: Beyond higher education as we know it

Discursive fields and social imaginaries set the limits of our interpretive horizons. With reference to the concept note, how can we unshackle our imagination to think alternative possibilities?

Contributors: Sharon Stein is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Educational Studies at the University of British Columbia in Canada. Crain Soudien is the Chief Executive Officer of the Human Sciences Research Council and formerly a Deputy Vice-Chancellor at the University of Cape Town. Relebohile Moletsane is Professor and the Chair of the John Langalibalele Dube Institute in Rural Education in the School of Education, University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN). This roundtable was chaired by Tshepo Madlingozi, who is Associate Professor and the Director of the Centre for Applied Legal Studies at Wits University.


Roundtable 6 – What is the meaning of ‘African’ in the ‘African University’? Does/can it facilitate an African emancipatory imagination?

The appellation of ‘African’ is a contested one. These contestations revolve around the meaning of ‘African’ in light of the heterogeneity of the continent and its discursive homogenization in the colonial imaginary. At the same time, ‘African’ has been used to mark resistance and solidarity in the face of colonization and the continued global inequalities today. Like with terms such as ‘African literature’ and the ‘African writer’, the phrase ‘African University’ raises questions about what is meant by such a term. Does it indicate solidarity, resistance and a reclamation of a denigrated identity? Is it a simple statement of geographical position or a geopolitical assertion? Does the appellation of ‘African’ reinforce problematic distinctions between ‘the University’ (normalized as white, Western, originary and excellent) and its ‘copies’ or other/s.

Contributors: Vivienne Bozalek is Professor and the Director of Teaching and Learning at the University of the Western Cape. Michael Okyerefo is Professor and a Cultural Sociologist and a Sociologist of Religion at the University of Ghana. Amos Njuguna is Professor of Finance and Dean of the School of Graduate Studies, Research and Extension at United States International University – Africa (USIU-A). This roundtable was chaired by Christi van der Westhuizen, who is Professor at the Centre for the Advancement of Non-Racialism and Democracy at Nelson Mandela University in South Africa.


Roundtable 7 – ‘Gender, Race…’ and the limits of university transformation/critical university studies

Universities are shaped along gendered, racialized, classist, heteronormative, ableist and other lines. It is essential that these kinds of exclusions are critiqued. The multidisciplinary and polyphonic perspectives on the problematics of access, equality and legitimacy are appropriate for questioning the interpretative frames of the university and knowledge in this age of uncertainty. The work that emerges from these perspectives is a major area of scholarship that can help to decenter CUS, on the levels of conceptualization, methodology and praxis.

Contributors: Aslam Fataar is Education Professor and works in the Department of Education Policy Studies at Stellenbosch University. Nancy Morkel teaches English Literature in the Faculty of Arts at Nelson Mandela University. She is studying towards a PhD in African Studies at the same university. Dr Jason Arday is an Assistant Professor in Sociology at Durham University in the Department of Sociology. This roundtable was chaired by Jenny du Preez, who is a Postdoctoral Fellow in the Chair for Critical Studies in Higher Education Transformation (CriSHET) at Nelson Mandela University.

[1] From the 15th to the 20th of August 2019, the Nelson Mandela University in collaboration with Queen’s University Belfast, hosted a Winter School titled Emancipatory Imaginations: Advancing Critical University Studies. This event was partially funded by the Global Challenges Research Fund as a network project led by Dr Dina Zoe Belluigi and Prof Andre Keet. Over 6 days, scholars, activists and policy-makers from across the globe discussed the university and how it might be studied from a multitude of perspectives. See more about the event here.

[2] ‘Umrhabulo’ is a practice of equality in sharing:

This is a South African approach to discussing important issues affecting the community. The practice of umrhabulo is embodied in the passing of a shared drink between those gathered, who sip from the vessel, conscious of everyone’s consumption. The same rule applies to the conversation, as there is limited time and many issues to discuss. One does not talk for too long, to avoid depriving others of ukurhabula.

For more see the concept note by Melathisi Ncityana and Nobubele Phuza within the appendix of the event report.


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