Makerere University, College Of Humanities and Social Sciences Symposium
Theme: The Humanities And Social Sciences In The Age Of Disruptions: Policy Challenges, Praxis Benefits And Intellectual Engagements
Venue: Makerere University Main Hall
6th March 2018
THE HUMANITIES AND SOCIAL SCIENCES IN THE AGE OF DISRUPTIONS: POLICY CHALLENGES, PRAXIS BENEFITS AND INTELLECTUAL ENGAGEMENTS
Labelled useless, with reducing funding and numbers, one would be right to argue that the Humanities and Social Sciences face an existential threat at the crusp of the Fourth Industrial Revolution that is characterised by fluidity and change — when stable and predictable reality is under threat from “disruption”. Defined as the destabilizing impact of, especially information mediated reality on account of advances in social media and the Internet, the Fourth Industrial Revolution has had a profound impact on humanity’s way of doing things, especially knowledge production. Even if one were to discount the contributions of African Scholars and centres of knowledge production in antiquity such as the libraries and universities at Alexandria, Fez and Timbukutu, there is no denying the role of the African Humanities and Social Sciences scholars in distilling the modern African condition. What comes to mind easily are the African Philosopher Kings of the Anti-Colonial movements such as Nkwame Nkurumah and his Pan-African dream, Leopold Sedar Senghor and his theory of Negritude, Julius Nyerere and his postulations about African Socialism and of recent, Thabo Mbeki and his African Renaissance vision. The work of the Philosopher Kings has been complimented by scholars at African premier academic institutions on the continent such as Walter Rodney and his idea of the scholar as someone who uses his intellect and academic tools to solve societal problems at the University of Dar es Salaam, Ali Mazrui and his idea that a scholar is someone fascinated by ideas at Makerere University to mention but a few. That these scholars had a profound impact on African peoples and societies is not in doubt. It can also be argued that they inspired the next generations of African Philosopher Kings and intellectuals. The case in point is that Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni and Ugandan scholar Mahmood Mamdani who studied under Rodney at the University of Dar es Salaam should have been influenced by him: for one to launch a protracted people’s war (Museveni) and the other to theorise African political thought in the decolonisation dispensation (Mamdani). Similarly, the vibrant scholarly discourse in Kampala in the 1960s under the aegis of Transition Magazine that formulated the neoliberal impetus in the greater Eastern African Region, it could be argued, could be attributed in part to the work of Ali Mazrui.
There is no doubt that Humanities and Social Sciences scholarship has variously contributed to the theorisation and conceptualisation of the African condition at the various epochs of the continent. Consequently, it is probably to suggest that they still have a role to play in the new milieu aptly called the Fourth Industrial Revolution. However, it should be noted that they are facing incredible pressure from STEM — Sciences, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics and vocational disciplines that have an explicit trajectory of return on investment in education. The impact of the Fourth Industrial Revolution has been seen in all fields such as business, politics (note the claims that fake news allegedly instigated by Russia won Donald J Trump the American presidency). However, the utmost impact of the Fourth Industrial Revolution has been in education and knowledge production, consumption and dissemination as global society transits into an information polity. The Fourth Industrial Revolution is a Janus-faced reality. On the one hand, it offers Humanities and Social Sciences disciplines in African universities an opportunity to reinvent themselves and survive, on the other hand it can accelerate their demise if they do not embrace change.
Given the established image of a Humanities and Social Sciences scholar as a quintessential public intellectual, it could be argued that the world needs Humanities and Social Sciences now than ever. This is largely because a Humanities and Social Sciences scholar is one who possesses a “particular kind of pessimism of the intellect that questions everything, stays curious and is not afraid of self-reflection, uncomfortable questions, or where the evidence takes” him/her (Kelly 2017: 12) or someone who exhibits an “unwavering commitment to the power of collective resistances and optimism of will” (Kelly 2017: 11). Granted, the Humanities and Social Science scholar is working in a complicated environment characterised by disruption, globalisation and neoliberalism — a context that demand that he/she deploys new tools of social analysis, let alone pose different questions. However, it can be argued that following in the footsteps of Ugandan Mahmood Mandani and Cameroonian Achille Mbembe, who have done tremendous work of African political thought by focusing on decolonisation; Ghanaian Kwame Antony Appiah whose theorisation of Afropolitianism and Identity has unearthed profound insights into who is a modern African subject; Nigerian Oyeronke Oyewumi whose work on African feminism has delineated a purely African essence of gender, Ugandan Sylvia Tamale who has theorised African sexuality as well as Malawian Thandika Mkandawire and Ugandan Augustus Nuwagaba who have professed important truths on poverty and how this ill can be tackled by African governments, the African Humanities and Social Sciences scholar of the future needs to demonstrate how his or her curiosity and intellectual labour can distil profound insights about perennial African problems. These scholars should not only question everything and be unafraid of self-reflection on the insights they can unearth but they should also always be optimistic of how research and scholarship in their areas of specialisation can envision a better African society. It can be argued that in the new and fascinating dispensation aptly named the Fourth Industrial Revolution, Humanities and Social Sciences training that can inculcate a curiously and courageously questioning mind is indispensable.
The College of Humanities and Social Sciences with support from Garda-Henkel Stiftung brings together eminent African Humanities and Social Sciences scholars, practitioners and policy makers/implementers to debate how the important trajectory of Humanities and Social Sciences engagement with issues affecting the African polity can be extended into the Fourth Industrial Revolution milieu. Cognisant that new tools and methods of analysis are needed, and that Humanities and Social Sciences Scholars need to pose a whole set of new questions, mindful of the threats that these disciplines face in the world ruled by information but strengthened by a long tradition of Humanities and Social Sciences’ leadership in providing answers to perennial problems affecting the world, this symposium seeks to pose the following questions. In what ways are Humanities and Social Sciences indispensable in the Fourth Industrial Revolution milieu? What new tools and methods are necessary in the new context of Humanities and Social Science scholarship of Africa? What are some of the pertinent questions about Africa that Humanities and Social Sciences scholars should pose at this moment? How can the African academy harness the tools of the Fourth Industrial Revolution to centre Humanities and Social Sciences in search of answers to the most important questions facing Africa in the 21st century? How should the Humanities and Social Sciences be taught, researched and their insights disseminated to benefit Africans in the contemporary era? These questions remind us of the traditional role of the African Humanities and Social Sciences scholarship in shaping the public intellectual as either someone who is fascinated by ideas (Ali Mazrui), or someone who solves societal problems (Walter Rodney).
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