n South African Journal of Higher Education - The world is not enough : knowledge in question

Volume 19, Issue 3
  • ISSN : 1011-3487



This article sounds a warning about threats to the continued good health of the Humanities globally, but especially in South Africa. It begins by examining the `canonical position' of the knowledge enterprise and the academy, namely, that innovation can only be driven from within, not from without. This establishes the idea that a healthy academia requires `necessary distance' from endogenous interests and agents, principally the state and the market, in order to survive. The article goes on to discuss contemporary threats to `necessary distance', ranging from changes in the global model of university governance, to pressures for external attunement to external needs, the market, or to `relevance', resulting in a new strategic regime of science. It next proceeds to review South African empirical work that assesses the degree to which the relevance imperative has had an impact in South Africa, and concludes that although curriculum change has by and large been patchy, that patterns in research and publishing show an alarming tendency to `follow the money'. It is suggested that some disciplines are able to respond to relevance pressures whilst maintaining their disciplinary integrity more easily that others. One cluster of disciplines that is manifestly not thriving is the Humanities. An explanation for this incapacity is sought in the concept of knowledge structure, which is related to differential capacity for external attunement. The article concludes that, under the present strategic regime of science, the Humanities seem damned if they do and damned if they don't.

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