premesh lalu on the humanities in south africa


To this end we might consider the possibilities that ensue from what can be called a “subversive genealogy” of humanistic study in South Africa. Such a genealogy, which is aimed at forging a reconstituted concept of the humanities beyond a tradition that must also be cultivated, has two specific instances.

In the first a subversive genealogy may trace the sources of humanistic study in the deliberations surrounding the so-called “native question” in the first half of the 20th century with the founding of “Bantu studies” in the liberal university.

The native question was a response to the quagmire facing the South African state intent on reorienting and recasting the meaning of black subjectivity. Caught between a discourse on vanishing cultures and the story of progress, academic disciplines performed the role of trusteeship over the category of the native, which appeared resolutely bound to administrative decree and capitalist demand.

Here the compulsion to answer the state-sponsored native question resulted in considerable disciplinary reorientation, but one equally constrained by the demands of a segregationist state. Thus my claim to an unwritten contract at times, in the name of the humanities and social sciences, between the state and the university.

Mail & Guardian.

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