Philosophy, and teaching (as) transformation

  • L Praeg


This paper explores a paradox constitutive of transformation discourse in South Africa: the transformation of a fragmented society presupposes the existence of a collective Will; but the creation of a collective will can only result from a process of transformation. While politicians and higher education administrators debate how best to conceive and implement transformation, committed lecturers have to find ways of teaching the reality of that ideal full knowing that it is in part through teaching that this ideal is achieved. The 2010 HE Summit (HES) called on all universities to ‘purposefully address the issue of social cohesion as part of their transformation agenda’ (2010:20). In this paper the learning encounter is posited as the paradoxical site es reproductive of that subjectivity. This suggests a degree of ‘bootstrapping’ in the sense that the learning encounter necessarily posits a historical Subject that is paradoxically both cause and effect of transformation. This is an interpretative paper that reflects on what it means to practise philosophy in such a context. Taking Readings’s The University in Ruins (1996) as point of departure it starts with a general, historical reflection on the telos of higher education which is then contextualised with reference to the post-colonial university. Towards the end I briefly consider aspects of my own philosophy teaching praxis in light of that theoretical frame. I engage the ‘bootstrapping’ paradox by suggesting that teaching (as) transformation comprises four moments: making students aware of 1) the fact that they belong to specific socio-epistemic communities; 2) that this sense of community is an historical construct which 3) implies limitations on the possibility of knowing and being that can 4) only be questioned through an encounter with what is other to that socio-epistemic community. In short, it is argued that in a university context the possibility of ‘social cohesion’ is first and foremost a confrontation with the conditions for the possibility of inter-subjective learning.

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eISSN: 0258-0136