School of Education

Doctoral Research on Student Movements in SA Higher Education

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Dr Mlamuli Nkosingphile Hlatshwayo

The case study for his research was Rhodes University  – a historically white university – offering ‘insight and contested history into the kinds of being, knowledge and knowers historically legitimated and valued in the institution, as well as the current institutional landscape and challenges the institution is grappling with’.

Hlatswayo looked at various ways knowledge is valued and legitimated in the field of Political Studies by asking the ‘how’ question – ie how is knowledge legitimated in Political Studies? This includes a consideration of how the Postgraduate Diploma in International Studies (PDIS) programme, designed to promote and enable an ‘expert in African International Studies,’ legitimates a certain kind of knower in the field.

‘The 2015-2016 student movements in South African higher education sharply critique what was perceived to be the slow pace of institutional transformation and decolonisation in institutions of higher learning,’ said Hlatshwayo. ‘One of the academic fields that has come under scrutiny is Political Studies, which has been accused of being un-transformed, irrelevant and not reflecting local, indigenous scholarship in curricula or pedagogy.’

Although Hlatshwayo, sees this literature as critiques of neo-colonial predominance of Western thought within the field, and the need to re-centre non-Western modes of being, thinking and intellectualising, he argues that this literature actually considers epistemologies without necessarily making a razor sharp critique of the underlying mechanisms and processes of Political Studies knowledge, and the extent to which it can be decolonised and transformed. It is in this area that Hlatshwayo makes a contribution to the field.

His study showed that the PDIS programmes values and legitimates curriculum knowledge by ensuring that students have a critical understanding of African political economy, war and conflict on the continent  as well as the challenges of peacekeeping and peace building in new and fragile African  states.

‘This was also seen in how the attributes and dispositions of knowers were also valued in how students needed to have social and cultural gazes in order to access the curriculum and to successfully participate as knowers in the field. This suggested that access to both curriculum knowledge and to being a valued knower in the field, could be said to be relatively open and unrestrictive,’ said Hlatshwayo.

He believes that his study can help lecturers and curriculum designers construct their curriculum in ways that are inclusive, open, and socially just, by being critically aware of the kind of knowledge that they choose to legitimate, and those they choose to disregard in their knowledge recontextualisation and its evaluation.

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