‘I am of Popper’, ‘I am of Asante’: The Polemics of Scholarship in South Africa

Abstract

In this article, I examine the state of knowledge construction within the South African academe. This, I do by looking at how issues of epistemology and ontology are prioritised or negated in the social construction of knowledge. Focusing on what I have called ‘the problem of perspectives’, I show how ‘epistemological narcissism’ has often limited the scope of methodological and theoretical innovativeness. I argue that by relying on a set of certain theories that scholars have known and used over the years, and dismissing those that are considered ‘foreign’ (or non-African), the exercise of knowledge construction has become largely polemical.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    Following these protests, at UCT for example, a campus wide Curriculum Change Working Group (CCWG) was established by the Vice Chancellor to explore ways of decolonising the curriculum.

  2. 2.

    Mbembe (2015). ‘Decolonizing Knowledge and the Question of the Archive’. Available from: https://wiser.wits.ac.za/system/files/Achille%20Mbembe%20-%20Decolonizing%20Knowledge%20and%20the%20Question%20of%20the%20Archive.pdf.

  3. 3.

    I owe my use of the notion of “seductive appeal” to the work of Alvesson, Ashcraft and Thomas (2008).

  4. 4.

    Coloniality is defined as “an invisible power structure that sustains colonial relations and domination long after the direct end of colonialism” (Ndlovu-Gatsheni 2012: 1). It differs from colonialism in the sense that, colonialism refers to a “political arrangement that has existed since time immemorial” (Maldonado-Torres 2017: 117). Drawing on this distinction, decolonisation needs to be then construed as a “political, epistemological and liberatory project” (Ndlovu-Gatsheni 2012: 1). As we shall see, the distinction between ‘coloniality’ and ‘colonialism’ is crucial in all the discussions around curriculum change in South Africa. Evidently, such discussions and calls have failed to separate these two from each other leading to ontological difficulties.

  5. 5.

    I argue here that one of the dangers of epistemological narcissism lies in the way it leads scholars to have some kind of bias towards their own preferred epistemological traditions. Elsewhere in literature, this is often referred to as “epistemological bias” (Howe 2002: 95).

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Correspondence to Tawanda Sydesky Nyawasha.

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Nyawasha, T.S. ‘I am of Popper’, ‘I am of Asante’: The Polemics of Scholarship in South Africa. Stud Philos Educ 39, 415–428 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11217-019-09688-7

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Keywords

  • Polemics
  • Afrocentric
  • Knowledge production
  • Epistemology
  • Euro-American
  • African diaspora