The Humanities in Africa: Critical Literacies and Higher Education Policy in South Africa

Prof. John Higgins
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At least two of South African novelist J.M. Coetzee's recent fictions refer directly to the place and predicament of the humanities in Africa. The first is present in the general description (in the novel Disgrace) of David Lurie's workplace, Cape Technical University, and the effects of the imposition of the new managerialism there; and the second, in the short story, 'The Humanities in Africa' (in the collection Elizabeth Costello). This paper examines the ways in which Coetzee's fictions work to interrogate and disturb the place assigned to the humanities in the South African policy response to the global pressures to redefine the role and status of higher education in the first decade of South Africa's new democracy. The paper describes and analyses the three conflicting strands of transformation at work in SA policy - the (global) pressures of 'new managerialism', the commitment to the values of critical citizenship, and the promotion of redress and Africanization. It argues that the overwhelming emphasis on science and technology effectively undermines and negates the guiding policy declarations, and calls for a reassessment of the social force and value of the critical literacies both described and queried in Coetzee's writing.

Keywords: South Africa, Higher Education Policy, Literature, J.M. Coetzee, Humanities in Africa
Stream: Knowledge
Presentation Type: Paper Presentation in English
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Prof. John Higgins

Professor of Literature and Fellow of the University of Cape Town, Department of English Language and Literature. Centre for Film and Media Studies., University of Cape Town
South Africa

John Higgins is the author of Raymond Williams: Literature, Marxism and Cultural Materialism (Routledge: 1999; winner of the UCT Book Award and Bill Venter/Altron National Award in 2000) and the editor of The Raymond Williams Reader (Blackwell: 2001). He is currently writing a study of Karl Marx for Routledge's Critical Thinkers series. He was the founding editor of the journal Pretexts: literary and cultural studies, and was awarded the Cape Tercentenary Foundation Award of Excellence for his services to literature and culture in South Africa in 2000. He previously taught at the University of Geneva, and has been a visiting professor at Columbia University in New York and the International University in German

Ref: H05P0820