Contestation at a South African University through the Lens of Democratic Theory

Five Exercises

in Theoria
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  • 1 University of the Witwatersrand daryl.glaser@wits.ac.za
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Abstract

The University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg (Wits), has been a prominent site of student protests since 2015. In the midst of the conflicts various Wits actors claimed or implied a special democratic legitimacy. This article examines five exercises at Wits: the election of student representatives, the student protest movement, a student petition, a management-initiated poll and an aborted General Assembly. These exercises are scrutinised and scored along six democratic dimensions: directness, participation, representation, pluralism, equality and deliberation. According to the weak thesis, this dimensional analysis reveals a landscape of democratic complexity that belies the claim of any one actor to a superior democratic model. According to the strong thesis, there is a particular problem with democratic practices that score weakly in terms of representation. The weakness of the ‘fallist’ student movement in the representation dimension undercuts its claim to prefigure a superior form of comprehensive university-wide democracy.

Contributor Notes

Daryl Glaser is a professor in the Department of Political Studies, University of the Witwatersrand. His main interests are in democratic theory and analytical political philosophy. In the past he has published in South African area studies and continues to apply his theoretical questions and concepts to South African cases. He has published in international journals including African Affairs, Journal of Southern African Studies, Political Studies, Politics and Society, and Review of International Studies. He is the author of Politics and Society in South Africa (Sage 2001), editor of Mbeki and After (Wits University Press 2010) and co-editor of Twentieth-Century Marxism: An Introduction (Routledge 2007). E-mail: daryl.glaser@wits.ac.za

Theoria

A Journal of Social and Political Theory

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