Unsettling Paradigms: The Decolonial Turn in the Humanities Curriculum at Universities in South Africa is a five-year supra-institutional collaborative project that brings together eight research-intensive universities: Pretoria, Wits, Free State, Rhodes, Western Cape, Cape Town, Stellenbosch and KwaZulu-Natal. These institutions have indicated and confirmed their commitment to working together on the project, which is both socially and historically relevant. Spurred by recent developments in the social movement for transformation in the higher education landscape, the project will offer fresh insights that will stimulate and strengthen work in the vital but under-researched field of the humanities curriculum at universities in South Africa.
A key assumption is that current curricula and modes of delivery at higher education institutions may be lacking in social, contextual and political relevance and require renewed impetus to better promote engagement and critical analysis. The project uses a conceptual lens that considers the ‘decolonial turn’ as an organising frame within which to generate a shift toward an inclusive and democratic curriculum. Received and untested assumptions are also central to any examination of the humanities curriculum, in the first instance, using such an interdisciplinary lens.
While promoting inter-epistemic dialogue and comparative analysis using southern perspectives on knowledge production, this project aims to have a clear and measurable impact on South African universities. Research will focus on the decolonisation and transformation of the academy in terms of rethinking and reforming curricula, redefining pedagogical practices and modes of teaching and learning, shifting staff demographics, and reconfiguring institutional cultures. Attention will also be focused on exposing the hidden curriculum and embedded practices with regard to decision-making structures, linguistic policy, budget allocation, space naming, etcetera. The project will thus foreground the historic legacy of universities in South Africa, and invigorate a debate that should reach beyond the boundaries of academia to consider what it means to be intensively and extensively present in South African public sphere today, and in institutions of higher learning.
Shaped by three interlocking thematic clusters – Theory and Research, Theory and Teaching, and The Hidden Curriculum and Embedded Practices, while also offering an Open Online Knowledge Portal – this pioneering project encompasses some postgraduate education, output-driven research (including creative outputs), as well as national, continent-wide and international cooperation and collaboration.