UP EXPERT OPINION: Adding a feminine touch for sound urban citizenship

Posted on August 24, 2020

The media has been vocal in pointing out the differences in leadership styles during the COVID-19 pandemic, specifically citing the lower death rates in countries where women are at the helm, such as Finland, Denmark, Taiwan, Germany and New Zealand. Attributes specific to women have been identified as potentially contributing to these successes: compassion, humility and collaboration feature as the most significant[1]. Of these, the issue of collaboration seems to be the one aspect that is mentioned time and again[2] as differing in the leadership styles of men and women.

Collaboration serves as the antithesis to competition, to the concept of winning and a culture of individualism. It is a prerequisite for partnership, for complex problem-solving and for the multiplication of resources or innate social capital for the benefit of the greater good. Yet, within the University of Pretoria (UP), collaboration has recently been singled out as something to be avoided when preparing for online tests and exams[3], thereby reinforcing the current academic culture of individual performance over peers. Such an explicit vilification of teamwork and collective learning appears to be contrary to the intentions of UP’s institutional desire for transformation[4], where entrenched values are sought to be challenged at a substantive level.

One of the four drivers of the UP transformation project is epistemic diversity – how different ways of knowing, learning and dissemination might serve not to undermine a curriculum, but rather enrich and diversify it. Belenky et al[5] suggest that these different ways of knowing might be significantly influenced by gender-specific challenges that impact on strategies for developing knowledge. By embracing a more inclusive approach to educational perspectives, it might therefore be possible to progress the knowledge project to address the systemic failure evident in all sectors of our society, from the climate crisis to socio- economic divides, continued racial prejudice and the war on women. Advancing a more complex and inclusive way of thinking, that also includes the apparently feminine attributes such as collaboration, could lead towards engendering a more inclusionary humane perspective.

Citizenship – academic, urban, global – irrespective of how you frame it, implies accountability, participation and, above all, collaboration. It is fundamental to consider processes of collaborating with our most important partner, namely our society, through the actions of our teaching and our research in order to engender these qualities that have produced some of the most stellar citizens of our era, such as Tsai Ing-wen, Jacinda Ardern, Angela Merkel and Sanna Marin.

For once, technology can serve to support this counterculture of inclusivity. We see the fourth industrial revolution being used for Zoom meetings to host family reunions, musicians reaching out to each other from their living rooms and children sitting on their working parents’ laps during meetings. Networks of like-minded people are finding innovative ways to collaborate from across the globe to share their knowledge and insights. The advantages of the fourth industrial revolution are, however, not available to everyone. In many South African schools, teachers and students struggle with the online environment, often without the necessary computer literacy needed to navigate this space, without adequate data or electricity as a result of regular loadshedding.

Political posturing and power plays have seen more than 1 500 schools seriously vandalised during lockdown[6], thereby denying a generation their opportunity for education. As educators, we cannot afford to give up on our youth and our future. Kleptocratic state mechanisms can be countered only by a society that is conscious of their innate potential, their mutual accountability and democratic power. Graduates are the political conscience necessary for society to function critically, and their education should be aimed at the enablement of the public at large through their knowledge, rather than assuming authority in knowledge for personal profit alone.

We are encouraged by some of the successes of the first semester in 2020, where a cohort of students in UP’s Architecture Department associated with the Unit for Urban Citizenship embraced the online environment to reach out and collaborate with a range of partners, demonstrating the potential of making education accessible, visible and available. The inroads made during this time, where something as seemingly impossible as community engagement became more wide reaching and important than ever, serve to support the value of such inclusive collaboration.

This op-ed motivates for a deeper consideration of the integration between knowledge development and dissemination as a fluid and interactive process of collaboration so that we can collectively move our epistemic diversity forward. Through embracing the inclusionary humane attributes of collaboration, compassion and humility, we could engender in our graduates the solidarity, empathy and shared sense of social accountability required to serve a more balanced and relational power distribution, thereby establishing the foundations for sound urban citizenship.

Dr Carin Combrinck is a senior lecturer in Architecture in the Faculty of Engineering, Built Environment and Information Technology at the University of Pretoria.



2 https://www.nber.org/papers/w19277

3 Correspondence from UP Executive, 14 May 2020: "The University of Pretoria commits itself to produce academic work of integrity. I affirm that I am aware of and have read the Rules and Policies of the University, more specifically the Disciplinary Procedure and the Tests and Examinations Rules, which prohibit any unethical, dishonest or improper conduct during tests, assignments, examinations and/or any other forms of assessment. I am aware that no student or any other person may assist or attempt to assist another student, or obtain help, or attempt to obtain help from another student or any other person during tests, assessments, assignments, examinations and/or any other forms of assessment."

4 https://www.up.ac.za/media/shared/5/ZP_Files/2016/2015-06-02up-curriculum-transformation-framework-final-draft_25-5-16.zp90390.pdf

5 Belenky, MF, Clinchy, BM, Goldberger, NR and Tarule, JM, 1986. Women’s way of knowing: the development of self, voice and mind. New York: Basic Books.

6 https://www.timeslive.co.za/news/south-africa/2020-05-19-more-than-1500-schools-hit-by-vandalism-theft-during-lockdown/






- Author Dr Carin Combrinck

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