Unsettling Paradigms

About Us

The aim of the project is to generate and disseminate interdisciplinary and engaged research and knowledge focused on broadly-defined curriculum transformation within South African universities. The project is thus an intervention in the current epistemic, theoretical and methodological struggles being articulated around the meaning of a transformed university.

The underlying premise is that curriculum transformation is driven, shaped and constructed by interlocking factors. These entail, for example, engaging social context (e.g. positioning local knowledge systems as sites of contestation), promoting diversity of knowledge (encouraging epistemic diversity and pluriversality), rethinking the meanings of pedagogy and practice (so as to strengthen modes of delivery and stimulate training in new pedagogical methods), and exposing the hidden curriculum and embedded practices at the university (so as to review and redefine the role and identity of universities in South Africa).

This five-year, multi-disciplinary and cross-institutional project will provide an invaluable space for reflection and work towards ensuring that real change is fostered rather than evaded across the full range of South African universities. We believe a proactive response such as that envisaged in our proposal will ensure that fruitful change (and exchange) is initiated by stakeholders within the academic environment rather than being forced on institutions by political pressures from without.

Meaningful change can best be achieved not by merely nodding to topical concerns, but by painstakingly examining the assumptions behind current syllabi and honestly facing the deep-rooted inadequacies that such research and teaching are bound to uncover.  In this context, the humanities curriculum offers a relevant point of departure for a project that is both catalytic and aimed at building capacity in order to ensure sustainability: the decolonial turn is not an ‘event’ but a long-term process and project.



Summer School in Africanizing Philosophy - University of the Witwatersrand and Rhodes University

The goal of transforming the Philosophy curriculum requires African Philosophy to be prominently included in the curriculum. Africa has much to teach the world, and philosophy itself can only benefit from the inclusion of traditions that are currently under-represented. This will not only enrich the philosophical canons but also lead to rigorous intercultural philosophy and dialogues between the African and Western philosophical traditions.

To promote this goal the University of the Witwatersrand and Rhodes University will run a ‘summer school’ in African Philosophy aimed at interested and promising Honours and Masters students within South Africa. African Philosophy specialists from South Africa, other African countries and abroad will teach a series of lectures and seminars over a week and will introduce students to the basics of African Philosophy. Works by philosophers such as Mogobe Ramose, Bernard Matolino, Jonathan Chimakonam, Ifeanyi Ani, Barry Hallen, Michael Onyebuchi Eze, Dismas Masolo, Anthony Oyowe, Thaddeus Metz, Edwin Etieyibo, and Ifeanyi Menkiti will guide discussions on several central issues including:  Ubuntu as a moral theory, consensus democracy, forms of communitarianism and their relations to individualism, the place of rights in political theory, the metaphysics of personhood, medical ethics/ bioethics, and the logic question in African philosophy.

(African) History Matters - University of Cape Town

In the midst of calls to decolonize university curriculums, we need to pay attention to the implicit complexities of recovering the past – specifically how interpretations of the same moment in history can sharply diverge and also clash even among historians who critique colonialism.

This is why history matters, and also why historians need to appreciate the difficulties of writing about periods for which we often only have the slightest evidence or sources produced under colonialism. Many “professional” historians are concerned with how the past is used – where the activist intellectual sees a definite fact, the historian might come with a hundred questions about sources and interpretations.

This project seeks to bridge the divide between the populist political appropriation of the past and the disciplined study of the past. It seeks ways to integrate a deeper, sophisticated understanding of centuries of African history into the current transformation and decolonization agenda.

Image-ining multilingualism in transformation: The linguistic repertoires of underrepresented students in higher education - Stellenbosch University and the University of the Western Cape

This joint research and educational programme investigates the linguistic repertoires and lived experiences of students whose languages or language varieties are not the media of teaching and learning at Stellenbosch University and the University of the Western Cape.

To help transform current curricula and expand institutional access to a more diverse student body, this project studies the role language and other semiotic meaning-making resources can play in assisting transformative practice – an area mostly neglected in public discourses. So-called standard varieties of English and to a lesser extent Afrikaans have maintained their privileged positions in South African universities. Even in student discourses, language is usually only tangentially referred to in connection to larger curriculum reforms.

This project will address this neglect by studying: the language repertoires the students bring to higher education; the ways students are positioned by language ideologies that are dominant at these institutions; the students’ lived experience as the affective dimension shaping their language use; and, by proposing alternative ways of imagining language through a participatory project.


Last edited by Nadia Grobler Edit