Race, Conquest &the Whiteness of the South African Academy: Experiments in “Azanian" Critique

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Date & Time: 
Friday, November 09, 2018 4:00pm to 6:00pm

Presented in co-sponsorship with the Atlantic Fellows for Racial Equity (AFRE)

"Race, Conquest & the Whiteness of the South African Academy: Experiments in "Azanian" Critique"

Joel M. Modiri, PhD
Department of Jurisprudence, University of Pretoria, SA | 2018 AFRE Fellow

The aim of this presentation is to consider the general displacement or minimisation of race, conquest and white supremacy as central categories of analysis and to relate this to the overwhelming demographic overrepresentation of white academics in the South Africa academy.  Even if the demographic narrowness of the university academics is concerning for its unrepresentative and inegalitarian make-up, I will suggest that the deeper problem lies in how this reproduces a homogenous white experience and largely Eurocentric and northbound epistemic patterns in legal scholarship. This has conceptual implications for how justice, freedom and equality are framed, understood and theorised against the backdrop of a “recurring history” of colonial-apartheid.  In particular, I will argue that the monochromatic nature of the upper echelons of the academy, the fact that it is whites who direct and control the interpretation and the teaching of knowledge, is not unrelated to the silences and evasions in academic scholarship concerning the continuation and escalation of racial inequalities and social hierarchies produced through over 350 years of settler-colonial domination. If South Africa does indeed boast “the best constitution in the world” this rather celebratory narrative must contend with the reality that a substantive reconstitution (that is, decolonisation) of South African society has still not occurred at the socio-economic, cultural and psychic levels. This presentation proposes that the existing theoretical protocols and discursive practices of South African theorising, permeated as they are by whiteness, must be supplanted by an alternative set of intellectual traditions that emerge from the experience of Black people in South Africa, the continent and the African diaspora.  In this regard, critical race theory, Black Consciousness and African philosophy will be drawn upon to reconstruct an analytic paradigm that could occupy “the position of the unthought”. Tentatively, this analytic paradigm will be named “Azanian critical philosophy” - Azania being the name imagined for this place by the Pan-Africanist tradition on these shores.

Proposed title of the presentation: Race, conquest and the whiteness of the South African academy: experiments in “Azanian" critique

Institute for Research in African-American Studies
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