by One Stab
The state in
which we find ourselves currently on the continent and in the world calls for,
amongst other things, a shift toward new imaginations and new practices of
education that emerge from, and respond to the dissonance of oppressed peoples’
lived realities. Voices all around the world are undermining the education
project of imperialism that alienates the majority of people from themselves
and their realities. Many of these voices are coming from within the
university/the academy and, in profound and deeply creative ways, they are
calling the legitimacy of the academy into question. The academy and academics,
as they currently exist, are fast becoming obsolete. If the university, and the
entire education system for that matter, is to survive as an institution that
is relevant to society, it needs to centre the project of liberation as its
most urgent political project. In this piece I intend to think through the
limitations of the academy, its relationship to knowledge(s), education and
knowledge outside the academy, as well as the exciting potentialities that the
current moment holds.
Ultimately I try
to imagine what education could be beyond the death of the academy.
In the academy
and in elite society in general the value of knowledge depends largely on where
it is located. Knowledge that is produced by (and for) the academy tends to be
the most highly valued. This superiorness is further upheld by the downholding of
other knowledges. An example of this: a paper written by a university
sociologist on ‘perspectives of unemployed youth on work’ will, in the academy,
be valued more than the actual perspectives of unemployed youth on work.
opinions, stories, experiences, ideas etc. are only considered legitimate in
the academy if they have been transposed by an academic. They cannot stand on
their own or represent themselves because of the barriers, structural, social
and epistemological, that the academy is built on. These barriers are increasingly
brutally policed in order to maintain a sterile social and physical climate
around the academy. This climate is completely at odds with the realities of
distance, between marginalised knowledges and institutional knowledge, and
between the constructed quiescence of the campus juxtaposed with the chaos of
the everyday, maintains a sharp epistemological dissonance between the academy/academics
and society/most people’s lives. That dissonance, along with the historical,
racial, gendered, political-economic and geographical mechanisms that reinforce
it, is usually enough to exclude the majority of people from the academy. If
not exclude them, it’s usually enough to silence them by making them feel like
they do not belong.
But there is a new campus politics emerging
There are new pedagogies of dissonance
New ways of embodying
And creatively giving life to dissonance…
particular historical moment, in the current crisis in higher education in
South Africa (which I speak from in this section), the academy is being
undermined and de-legitimised in significant ways. Black students and workers
are bringing their whole selves and their lived realities of exploitation and
dispossession, to the university.
Cecil Rhodes is now adorned with shit
Shacks are constructed on campus
In full view of Fuller and Smuts
Tyres were burnt
Along with paintings and other symbols of alienation
Transformation, combustion and transcendence
transplanting of social reality into the sanctified university is a new
pedagogy of dissonance. Immersing dissonance represents a creative critique of
the university’s constant refusal to engage with the lived realities of
oppressed peoples in any way other than as data for publishing papers.
It is no longer
enough to theorise dissonance. Now that the vultures of symbolic and structural
violence are coming home to roost, dissonance is beginning to theorise the
university. And the university is coming up short
Black dissonance in white spaces, ideological struggle is being waged on
campuses in creative ways. Black students, newly admitted into the sterile
halls of the ivory tower, are challenging the underlying values of the colonial
education system. Decolonisation, and the characteristic chaos that necessarily
accompanies that political project, is disrupting the present order and is
posing new threats to the system of elitist education that teaches
assimilation, conformity, ignorance, brutality, and submission (all of which
are imperialist dreams). This is significant because of the challenge to the
conservative values of colonial education, but also due to the context in which
the university finds itself under contemporary capitalism.
Largely due to
structural transformations under neoliberalism and the advancing
corporatisation of universities through closer links with industry, the few
spaces within the academy that hold radical potential, spaces for challenging
imperialism in all its forms, are under threat.
Frenzied drives to publish
To get promoted
The serious undervaluing of teaching
Trends toward casualisation of junior academic labour
the contemporary imperial illness, is wreaking havoc on academics, their
wellbeing and the type of academic work they do and how it is valued by the
university. These factors, many of which have characterised the academy for a
long time, but have been exacerbated by contemporary trends, emphasise
individual achievement within very narrow parameters.
any potential for imagination of the university as anything outside of a
project in itself. The increasing individualisation of academic practice, and
the undermining of the social bases from which a collective project could be imagined
and pursued, has meant that the idea of the university has been crystallised
and is pursued as the project itself.
papers, for publishing, for my promotion, for my discipline, for the academy.
Pledge allegiance to university as project; dislocated from the society it
seeks merely to interpret (rather than transform it).
University as project is no longer tenable
It is no longer
tenable for universities to fund research projects on poverty and inequality
while paying starvation wages to outsourced cleaners and, at the same time, millions
This university will not be allowed to continue
We cannot allow
the academy to reproduce dissonance through its payscale while at the same time
profiting from it by theorising and publishing it. To the academics who write
papers on radical politics but are sweating in their offices when students and
other workers are chowing stun grenades outside, time is up.
You are obsolete
university is going to survive as an institution that is relevant to society,
it’s mode of engagement with broader society is going to have to be radically
reimagined and new, relevant practices will need to be shaped. We will have to
look at how liberation educators have, in the past, emerged from the
limitations of the academy.
I reckon we also need to think about this dissonance
If we take
seriously as a pedagogy the centering of dissonance, what types of
intellectuals might emerge? What types of possibilities would open up for
collective struggle and radical imagination if the university understood itself
as a core part of, and a central contributor to societal change?
Notes toward practice in investigation and reflection
I am talking
about shifts toward more popular forms of education in which people are engaged,
and treated as full participants, knowledgeable of themselves and their reality;
movements away from institutional insularity; a single staff body without
distinction between manual and intellectual labour; a social force fighting for
all people’s safety and against sexual violence; a teaching practice educating
beyond coloniality, its borders and toward new pan-African connections.
Phoenix style post-script / comparative post-mortem
Actually the academy died a long time ago
For those with radical imaginations of difference
Of different ways of being
And living together
For those with
devotion to realise those imagined societies, these limitations of the
university were diagnosed and were/are well known. It was largely outside of
the prescribed parameters of normative academic practice that intellectual
practice has been oriented toward revolutionary visions.
multiple examples of people and movements that have shaped intellectual and
educational practices around the understanding that the world is a classroom – that knowledge and education already
exist in organic abundance outside the academy. But also within it.
Despite its fatal limitations
I believe that the academy can still be mobilised as
an incredible resource for struggle
That should be the project
Part of that
project will necessarily be the challenge from within, insistence on the
centring of dissonance. Another, parallel part of that project will be
imaginations and practices of education that redraw the boundaries and sites of
the university – the spaces that we understand as productive of knowledge.
For the African
Party for the Independence of Guinea and Cape Verde (otherwise known as PAIGC),
university consisted in the concrete conditions of people’s lives: Their
practice of education was one and the same as the struggle for liberation, this
emerged from the realities of their situation. The building of schools,
construction of hospitals, improving agricultural practices, and the readying of
the people for armed struggle; all of these were understood by the party cadres,
and the people with whom they lived, learned and created, as their living
education, their living politics, their mode of awareness-raising toward shaping
a positive, self-determined future.
context, closer to home for me, SACHED (South African Committee for Higher
Education), a creative, community response to the restricted scope for Black
learning in colonial tertiary institutions, designed a curriculum that was intended
to fill the gap of university for Black people. But actually, in certain
branches and at certain points in time, the programmes went far beyond the
limitations of the university.
Because of its
positioning within society, on the fringes of legality, largely outside the
status quo, SACHED’s approach to education emerged from the dissonance of
marginality and resonated with the lived realities of Black people in ways that
the university never could.
Jump to the now
KYC (Know your
continent) is in many ways a continuation of some of the work that SACHED was
doing in the 1980s around African history education. We use some of the
resources developed by Prof NoSizwe et al. and draw on the Western Cape’s rich
history of popular and political education, particularly those parts associated
with the Unity Movement and other community education programmes. We do
education with participants from local high schools, university people,
community members and activists and try to root the conversations within
contemporary politics and struggles.
point in KYC is to ask what the history of the continent can teach us about the
roots of our current situation and how to respond to it. We ask how a
historical consciousness, a thinking about how people have intervened in, and
shaped their worlds in the past, might equip us for responding to contemporary
People’s Education, we depart from the position of centering contemporary African
experiences and realities. From here we try to grapple with particular
challenges that come from that departure point; challenges relating to
spirituality, this thing of culture in all its various interpretations,
sexuality, gender and the related systemic oppressions, knowledges, musics, and
various expressions of imperialism.
And studios are some of our universities
What we are trying to do is
Beyond the death of the academy
The Pan-African university
Who no know