Re-thinking Knowledge and Social Change in South Africa
Prix Charles et Monique Morazé 2014 - Mala SINGH
Le Prix Charles et Monique Morazé, remis par la Fondation Maison des Sciences de l’Homme pour la deuxième fois, a été attribué à Madame Mala Singh, professeur à la Rhodes University de Grahamstown, Afrique du Sud.
A l’occasion de la cérémonie de remise du Prix, le professeur Mala Singh a donné une conférence le 25 novembre 2014 à l'Institut d'études avancées de Paris, dans l'Hötel de Lauzun, intitulée Re-thinking Knowledge and Social Change in South Africa, dont le texte a également été publié dans la collection de working papers de la Fondation.
The 20th anniversary of formal democracy in South Africa in 2014 has stimulated a great deal of often-quantitative accounting of achievements and shortcomings in creating a better society. The post-apartheid social change agenda upheld an ambitious normative vision for democratic inclusion and social justice but produced an ambivalent yield of benefit and disillusionment. So many more houses built and yet so many people still live in shacks. So many more school leavers entering universities and yet the participation rates in higher education remain low. So many more citizens afforded social welfare benefits and yet large-scale poverty and its ravages remain largely undented. Progress beyond the formalities of constitutional democracy as the chosen form of government, towards the goals of social justice and social cohesion, accountable governance, tolerance for critique and dissent, and towards a more rationally and normatively planned polity remain more difficult to gauge.
The two-decade anniversary has evoked much debate and reflection on the ambitious social change agenda adopted in 1994 and on its implementation modalities and outcomes. In the face of ongoing systemic inability to improve the material conditions of life of the majority of the population as well as weaknesses in institutionalizing a democratic culture, questions have been posed about the need to re-think not only the chosen social policies and their accompanying implementation strategies but in some instances even the underlying legitimating vision and goals. Such reflections are taking place in government, in civic organizations, in the media and in the universities. There has, for instance, been a long-standing debate about the need to transform the universities and the research system in the direction of greater equity and social responsiveness. A recent initiative to re-dedicate collective research effort to address poverty and inequality in response to government’s National Development Plan has highlighted the question of the role of knowledge and modes of involvement of academics and researchers in the social change agenda in South Africa. In the same reflective vein of assessment about the direction and results of change currently evident in many social sectors, it may be useful to analyze how the relationship between knowledge (and its producers and institutions) and society (and its sources of power) has been constructed and with what benefits and challenges.
In considering the unfolding social change agenda in South Africa and the intellectual engagement that sought to support it, this presentation attempts to track some of the evolving conceptions about knowledge for social change among social researchers, higher education and research institutions, and policymakers. What shifts and swings have there been in the patterns of intellectual engagement with state and non-state actors as addressees of socially useful knowledge and what lessons learned? Assuming that the notion of socially useful knowledge is already a kind of political and moral narrative, how has the tension between political engagement and scientific rigour been articulated and negotiated? And given the legacies of apartheid exclusion, are there significant changes and creative interventions to change the race, class and gender profiles of the producers and shapers of knowledge?
It is hoped that this kind of analysis could serve as a clearing ground for the task of re-imagining the possibilities for and recognizing the limits of producing knowledge for society and revisiting the terms of intellectual engagement in social change in South Africa in an environment made more complex by the demands of the knowledge economy and the reputational economy.