‘I see it as part of my responsibility as an academic to write’ – UP professor on winning award for most articles published on The Conversation Africa

Posted on November 15, 2023

Professor Daniel Bradlow, a professor/senior research fellow in the University of Pretoria’s (UP) Centre for Advancement of Scholarship, was recognised at the recent Academic Achievers’ Awards held by the University for being the author who published the most articles on The Conversation Africa. The University confers awards under The Conversation Africa Science Communication Awards category, through a partnership with this esteemed platform which gives higher education institutions an opportunity to share their research outputs with fellow academics across the globe as well as with civil society.

Prof Bradlow was the SARChi Professor of International Development Law and African Economic Relations in the Centre for Human Rights at UP until the end of 2022, and has published widely on issues related to the legal aspects of global financial governance and sovereign debt. His most recent book is The Law of the International Financial Institutions (OUP, 2023). He has translated many of these academic writings, including a summary of this book,  into articles that are available to an interested public.

“In academia, you’re writing for people who share similar levels of knowledge to you, and you write in a particular way that is not necessarily publicly accessible. This absolutely has its function, but I think it’s important to inform the public, so that they have a sense of how knowledge is developing, and to stimulate critical thinking and debate on relevant issues for society, the country and the world, as it may be,” he explains. “In a way I see it as part of my responsibility as an academic to write about an issue that falls within my area of expertise, when I feel that people would benefit from knowing more. And it’s not that they should necessarily agree with me – they might even strongly disagree – but at least it gets them to think about it more as well.” Prof Bradlow says that writing for The Conversation has led to requests for interviews from other parts of the media, both within Africa and beyond her borders, which has provided a means to reach a different audience and amplify the voice.

“Sometimes interviewers ask questions in ways that academics wouldn’t necessarily, and that forces you to think about the issue differently, and to consider how to explain it in a way that’s more accessible,” he says. “And in cases where I’ve collaborated with others to write an article, the process has been helpful in developing my thinking; so I don’t just see it as a service, but also as contributing to my research.”

The public role of academics

Prof Bradlow encourages students, particularly those at master’s and doctoral level, to publish as much as they can, as early on as possible. “The Conversation Africa is a good place for them to publish on as well, as writing shorter pieces requires disciplined writing – it’s much harder to reduce complex ideas to 1 000 words as opposed to 5 000,” he says. “This is in no way to denigrate academic writing or to suggest they write articles at the expense of that work, but I think it’s an important skill to learn.

“This is particularly relevant in Africa at this time, where academics have a more public role and an opportunity to have a positive impact on society. Law is a practical discipline after all, and by linking policy-orientated research, academics in Africa can contribute to development in our countries and across the continent. The same goes for many other disciplines.”

Asked to highlight some of the work that has stood out for him across his expansive and distinguished legal and academic career, Prof Bradlow reflects on one of his earliest pieces as an academic, which was on the accountability of the World Bank and the need for the creation of an ombudsman. “That was part of the effort to create what is now the Inspection Panel at the World Bank, which celebrated its 30th anniversary this year. So my work had a direct, practical impact, and now all the multilateral development banks have mechanisms in place like that.

“My teaching career has also been a highlight, contributing to the process of turning students into effective lawyers has been a very rewarding thing to do. Seeing them achieve their potential has been fantastic – some are helping their countries negotiate trade agreements, one is a governor of the central bank in their country. Many have been very successful in private practice,” he says.

“The students I see at UP are smart and they work really hard. If they are our future, our continent has got a bright future indeed.”

Professor Daniel Bradlow is a UP alumnus, having obtained his LLD from UP in 2010. He is also a Compliance Officer in the Social and Environmental Compliance Unit of the United Nations Development Programme and an emeritus professor of law at American University Washington College of Law. He was previously the head of the International Economic Relations and Policy Department of the South African Reserve Bank and the chair of the Independent Review Mechanism at the African Development Bank.

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