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Friday - 11.35: session 20 – Mathew Toll & Shi Chunxu is back on, in B48, replacing Sha Xie.

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Thursday, July 4 • 11:30am - 12:30pm
Seeing knowledge and knowers in the field of political studies

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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. 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 this literature critiques neo-colonial predominance of western thought within the field, and the need to re-centre non-Western modes of being, thinking and intellectualising, I argue that this literature actually considers epistemologies without necessarily making a razor sharp critique at the underlying mechanisms and processes of Political Studies knowledge, and the extent to which it can be decolonised and transformed. It is in this gap that I make a contribution to the field.

This study is positioned in the field of higher education decolonisation, with a specific focus on exploring knowledge and knower structures in Political Studies. I explore the various ways in which knowledge is valued and legitimated in the field of Political Studies by asking the “how” question – that is, 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. I employ Basil Bernstein’s pedagogic device as a theoretical foundation for exploring 1) what the field of Political Studies knowledge production looks like, 2) how knowledge is recontextualised from the field of production and into the PDIS curriculum, and 3), how that knowledge is legitimated and evaluated through the programnme’s assessment documents, and what they revel as valued and legitimate curriculum knowledge in the field. Karl Maton’s Legitimation Code theory (LCT), specifically Specialisation, is called upon to offer sharp analytical tools for investigating the underlying mechanisms and processes of the knower and knowledge structures that the programme legitimates. It particularly sheds some light on the kinds of gazes that are valued in the field of Political Studies in general, and in the PDIS programme in particular.

The case study for this research is Rhodes University, a historically white university which required consideration of its contested history into the kinds of being, knowledges and knowers that were historically legitimated and valued in the institution, as well as the current institutional landscape, and challenges with which the institution is grappling. The data generation included the formally planned curriculum as contained in the programme’s curriculum documents. These included course outlines, and details regarding seminar critiques, presentations, class participation, class discussions, essay questions and exams/exam portfolio. The data generation also included semi-structured interviews with the lecturers who were regarded as the “recontextualising agents”, who taught in the programme and who offered key insights on some of the curriculum choices regarding selection, pacing, sequencing and evaluation of the curriculum knowledge in the PDIS programme.

The research presented here revealed that 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 African 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.
In my presentation, I first argue that looking critically at how Political Studies knowledge is recontextualised from the field of production and into the PDIS curriculum can be seen as a decolonising process as it enables us to see the underlying mechanisms and processes of how Political studies knowledge and knowers are valued and legitimated in the field. This offers us an insightful space to see to what extent the fields of production, recontextualisation, as well as reproduction of Political Studies in general, and the PDIS programme in particular, could be said to have a colonising gaze. It also offers insight on how we can go about exploring, transforming and decolonising Political Studies and the PDIS programme. Secondly, exploring the knowledge and knower structures of the PDIS programme can help curriculum designers, lecturers and students identify the knowledge and knower codes of the curriculum, and to critically reflect on their curriculum codes and how to enable epistemological access to students. Furthermore, the study being presented 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.

Thursday July 4, 2019 11:30am - 12:30pm
Room B47

Attendees (5)