Academic Freedom in a Democratic South Africa

John Higgins

Essays and Interviews on Higher Education and the Humanities

272 pages
ISBN 9781611485981

co-published with Wits University Press

How do we understand academic freedom today? Does it still have relevance in a global reconfiguring of higher education in the interests of the economy, rather than the public good? And locally, is academic freedom no more than an inconvenient ideal, paid lip service to South Africa's Constitution as an individual right, but neglected in institutional practice?

This book argues that the core content of academic freedom - the principle of supporting and extending open intellectual enquiry - is essential to realizing the full public value of higher education. John Higgins emphasizes the central role that the humanities, and the particular forms of argument and analysis they embody, bring to this task.

Each chapter embodies the particular force of a critical literacy in action, one which brings into play the combined force of historical inquiry, theoretical analysis, and precise attention to the textual dynamics of all statement so as to challenge and confront the received ideas of the day. These provocative analyses are complemented by probing interviews with three key figures from the Critical Humanities: Terry Eagleton, who discusses the deforming effects of managerialism in British universities; Edward W. Said, who argues for increased recognition of the democratizing force of the humanities; and Jakes Gerwel, who presents some of the most recent challenges for the realization of a humanist politics in South Africa.


"In the well-researched, enlightening, most important, and formal concluding chapter five, the author has indeed accomplished his intention of "making the case for the humanities" (p. 141) giving evidence of the tremendous contributions of the humanities worldwide... Academic Freedom in a Democratic South Africa is highly recommended for anybody who is interested in literature, history, sociology, philosophy, pragmatics, political science, critical discourse analysis, journalism, communication, and for academics in the countries, the Constitutions of which have no provisions for academic freedom."
--Voudina Ngarsou, Emi Koussi University and the University of N'Djamena; African Studies Quarterly; Vol. XV, No. 4; (September 2015).

"Taking up a perspective that is defiantly located 'offshore,'
Higgins shows in brilliant and intriguing detail how the humanities in post-apartheid South Africa have suffered both
from American-style corporate instrumentalism and from what he calls 'applied nationalism' and how much democracy
stands to lose thereby. This is a world-scale contribution to the university's never more than partially realized challenge of figuring out what cultural literacy should be and how it can be defended."
- Bruce Robbins, Columbia University

"Higgins' retelling of episodes in the anti-apartheid student movement in the 1980's is uncannily resonant with questions raised by the current BDS movement against Israel, and his reflections on the demise of a liberal arts tradition under pressure from global neoliberal technologism are an important resource for all of us who are faced with giving an account of ourselves in an outcomes-driven academic environment."
- David Simpson, University of California, Davis

About the author:

John Higgins is Arderne Chair of Literature at the University of Cape Town and a member of the Academy of Science of South Africa.


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