Academic Freedom in a Democratic South Africa

Essays and Interviews on Higher Education and the Humanities
  • Publication Date: November 2013
  • Dimensions and Pages: 130 x 215, 288 pp
  • EAN: 978 1 86814 751 9
  • Rights: World
  • Recommended Price (ZAR): 320.00
  • Recommended Price (USD): 34.95

How do we understand academic freedom today? Does it still have relevance in the face of the managerial and ideological pressures which are reconfiguring higher education institutions? And what about the humanities? In an increasingly market-driven world, what do the humanities have to offer society? These two sets of questions provide the guiding threads of related enquiries that make up this hard-hitting and controversial study. Academic Freedom in a Democratic South Africa argues that the principle of supporting and extending open intellectual enquiry is essential to realising the full public value of higher education, and that in this task, the humanities and the forms of argument and analysis that they embody have a crucial role to play.

The book examines the troubled history of academic freedom in South Africa starting with key debates raised by the 1987 O’Brien Affair through to post-apartheid government policy where it figures as an inconvenient ideal, that is paid lip service to but is neglected in practice; questions received ideas of institutional culture and managerial authority; and argues for a better understanding of the critical thinking arising from advanced forms of literacy made available by the humanities. Discussion of the place of the humanities in furthering democracy is deepened and extended in a series of interviews with three key figures from the critical humanities: Terry Eagleton talks about the deforming effects of managerial policies in British universities, Edward W. Said argues for the democratising potential of the humanities and Jakes Gerwel discusses the importance of the humanities in both the anti-apartheid struggle, and for contemporary South Africa. The volume as a whole ends with a consideration of the most recent challenges facing academic freedom and the humanities.


Preface by J.M. Coetzee

Introduction: Writing to the Occasion


Chapter 1. The Warrior Scholar versus the Children of Mao

Chapter 2. Academic Freedom in the New South Africa

Chapter 3. ‘It’s Literacy, Stupid!’: Declining the Humanities in NRF Policy

Chapter 4. Institutional Culture as Keyword

Chapter 5. Making the Case for the Humanities in South Africa


Chapter 6. A Grim Parody of the Humanities’: Terry Eagleton (2000)

Chapter 7. ‘Criticism and Democracy’: Edward W. Said (2001)

Chapter 8. ‘Living out our Differences’: Jakes Gerwell (2012)

John Higgins is Professor and Fellow of English at the University of Cape Town, South Africa. His monograph RaymondWilliams: Literature, Marxism and Cultural Materialism (1999) won both the Altron National Book Award and the UCT Book Prize. He is the editor of the Raymond Williams Reader (2011).

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7 Responses to “Academic Freedom in a Democratic South Africa”

  1. […] Have you read the foreward, by novelist J. M. Coetzee, to John Higgins’s Academic Freedom in a Democratic South Africa? […]

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  3. […] Freedom in a Democratic South Africa by John Higgins Book homepage EAN: 9781868147519 Find this book with BOOK […]

  4. […] is still in print: and his recent Academic Freedom in a Democratic South Africa, published there by Wits Press will shortly be published in the US. Part of John Coetzee’s preface to that book is […]

  5. I welcome the publication of this book. It focuses directly upon the issues that have confronted me directly, employed as a Social Anthropology researcher for the Construction Economics and Management Department at Wits University. Social anthropology at undergraduate level understands cultural relativism and at postgraduate level, is critical of western institutions. This is because anthropology is a science and works within a rationalist, western, scientific tradition. Do corporations and ‘corporate university departments’ do the same? The effort at ‘reconfiguring’ higher education is dominating, sustained and energetic – the Humanities are at pains ‘not to impose’, to maintain social etiquette – how shall the twain meet? Thank you for this book which I look forward to reading.