Wednesday, 15 April 2015

BEING AT HOME - its relevance for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning towards a Socially Just Pedagogy

I have just completed reading Being at Home: Race, Institutional Culture and Transformation at South African Higher Education Institutions (2015, eds Pedro Tabensky and Sally Matthews, UKZN Press). I agree with the comments on the back cover by Johnathan Jansen, that that it is a very important contribution, that the accounts are compelling and it is extremely scholarly and well put together. 

In the previous blog posting, I had queried the use of the phrase 'at home' and Vanessa Merckel made the important contribution about rather feeling 'welcome/unwelcome'. Then I suggested: 'welcomed/not welcomed'. - I see there is more interesting discussion about this in the book. A phrase used by Samantha Vice, is of being 'in one's element'. This would apply very strongly to academics working in an institution, where everyone would feel enabled and productive, with minimal frustrations and impediments. Another author in the book, Minesh Dass, referring to Derrida, speaks about the need to practice 'absolute hospitality', which implies one does not treat the guest as a 'foreigner', does not need to know anything about the guest in advance, and does not need the guest to resemble the host in any way at all. He maintains that conventional hospitality is conventional and conservative. More of this provocative and very credible idea is discussed in the book.

Another chapter I found creative and stimulating, is that by Bruce Janz on 'Instrumentalisation in Universities and the Creative Potential of Race'. Drawing on the ideas of Deleuze, he argues that universities have become oppressive, 'cramped spaces' in the age of instrumentalisation, and that to work creatively within this cramped space, we should learn from how during apartheid, race has been creative. On page 281 there is a lovely quote from Thoburn (2003: 8):

It is from their very cramped and complex situations that politics emerges - no longer as a process of facilitating and bolstering identity, or 'becoming-conscious', but as a process of innovation, of experimentation, and of the complication of life, in which forms of community, techniques of practice, ethical demeanors, styles, knowledges, and cultural forms are composed. 

The chapter is about resistance to the oppression of instrumentalisations, but it also offers a different way of looking at teaching for a socially just pedagogy - learning from the creativity of race, how to be innovative and experimental in oppressive contexts.

The other chapter that is most relevant for a socially just pedagogy is that of Thaddeus Metz, on 'Africanizing Institutional Culture'. He provides a strong set of propositions about why African culture should be included in the rituals and curriculum of a university: not because truth is relative, and not because Africans have been oppressed, thus one Africanises for the sake of redress. Rather, it is primarily because one should provide staff and students the opportunity to understand the past and present of the region, and the opportunity to choose if one wants to adopt these knowledges and practices: 'the heart of the claim is that, given a largely African context, public institutions have some obligation to enable people to become Africans'. 

- I recommend this book, it has lots of good ideas that pertain the the SOTL @ UJ project. 

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