The debate as to whether the humanities is in decline is almost over. Statistics on declining enrolments, shrinking job prospects, dwindling funding and growing condescension from society add up to show that all is not well. Humanities scholars have, in the recent past, tried to discover what is wrong as well as do something to demonstrate that the humanities is still relevant to society. In this regard, many have suggested that the humanities should change to accommodate the needs of the marketplace, while others have argued that to do so will change the humanities so drastically as to render it unrecognizable. This article is about the current state of affairs in the humanities and the different views that have been expressed on it. It argues that rather than the humanities, it is actually society that is in decline, and as such changing the humanities to suit the needs of the marketplace would be a disservice to our long humanistic tradition. It acknowledges that humanities scholars need to engage more with society even as they continue in activities that have defined the humanities through the years and argues for humanities therapy as a way for the humanities to engage with a world that is increasingly enamoured with technê.
Ibanga B. Ikpe
Thoughts on the Humanities at Home and Abroad
The place and future of the Humanities is under scrutiny in many parts of the world. The diminution in the university commenced in the 1980s with the rise of free-market thinking associated with Thatcher and Reagan. It was the end of the Cold War, however, with the rise of globalisation that control was tightened in higher education under the guise of increased freedom. The increasing emphasis on utilitarian forms of knowledge needed for economic growth further imperilled the Humanities. In South Africa, upon which the argument draws for illustration, policy-makers paid increasing lip service to academic freedom and institutional autonomy while directing policy interest and resources away from the Humanities.
Amid the current crisis in the humanities and the human sciences, researchers should take up the challenge of writing more effectively. Rather than clinging to forms inherited from the nineteenth century, they should invent new ways to captivate readers, while also providing better demonstrations of their research. Defining problems, drawing on a multitude of sources, carrying out investigations, taking journeys in time and space: these methods of inquiry are as much literary opportunities as cognitive tools. They invite experimentation in writing across disciplines, trying out different lines of reasoning, shuttling back and forth between past and present, describing the process of discovery, and using the narrative “I.” We can address the public creatively, decompartmentalize disciplines, and encourage encounters between history and literature, sociology and cinema, anthropology and graphic novels—all without compromising intellectual rigor. Now more than ever, the human sciences need to assert their place in the polis.
Research on human-environment interactions often neglects the resources of the humanities. Hurricane Katrina and the resulting levee breaches in New Orleans offer a case study on the need for inclusion of the humanities in the study of human-environment interactions, particularly the resources they provide in examining ethics and value concerns. Methods from the humanities, when developed in partnership with those from the sciences and social sciences, can provide a more accurate, effective, and just response to the scientific and technological challenges we face as a global community.
Teaching Shakespeare Performance to Israeli Medical Students
Israeli doctors enjoy the dubious reputation of being unfeeling, arrogant and altogether incapable of listening to patients’ concerns, to such an extent that the success of treatment can be seriously compromised, on both a scientific and human level. In an attempt to combat these shortcomings, Israel has followed other countries’ lead in incorporating exposure to the humanities as an integral part of the medical curriculum. I argue that Shakespeare’s theatre provides a unique platform for discussion of the ways in which we approach our own and our patients’ mental and physical pain. I address the particular challenges of teaching Shakespeare to multicultural Israeli medical students and the value of drawing on performances in Hebrew and Arabic as well as English. I employ performance theory and cultural studies to shed light on the insights to be gained by exposure to Shakespeare performance which can directly impact these future medical practitioners’ experience.
Bridging the Artist-Scholar Divide
Ibanga B. Ikpe
One of the consequences of hyper-positivism on contemporary scholarship has been an increase in measuring academic excellence by instrumental rather than intrinsic value. Increasingly, university disciplines are required to demonstrate their relevance in the marketplace, resulting in a tendency by some arts and humanities scholars to deemphasise research and concentrate on creative practice. This paper attempts to bridge the gap between these two responses. It argues that concentrating on creative practice (techne) reduces the art academic to a tradesperson and that concentrating on rhetoric while ignoring arts practice alienates the artist from vital skills and techniques. It identifies scholarship as the defining feature of academic excellence and argues that this is better achieved when academics use critical thinking to balance creative expression and research based practice.
A Participant Observer’s View
I dwell here on my own experience of working at Cambridge University for methodological reasons. Anthropologists could make more of the humanities tradition of going deeply into particular personalities, places, events and relations in search of wider truths. Ethnography exemplifies this, but the discipline’s assimilation into the social sciences and academic bureaucracy counteract this impulse. I draw selectively on my anthropological education and academic work to interrogate the political relationship between western societies and their former colonies. Cambridge University is reactionary for sure, but its decentralized organization makes room for a minority sometimes to change the world. The historical example of the abolition movement illustrates this. Anthropology ought to be a way of rethinking the world, and I conclude with how and why I introduced students to the anti-colonial intellectuals who did just that when they led the liberation (not ‘decolonization’) movements that overthrew European empires.
Frederick Luis Aldama
This article at once celebrates and puts at cautionary arm's length the tremendous advances made in the cognitive and neurosciences as research that can deepen our understanding of creating and consuming of literature, films, comic books. After providing an overview of recent insights by scholars with one foot in the humanities and the other in the cognitive and neurosciences, the article reflects on some key precepts that might be useful in our continued shaping of a humanities and cognitive based research program. For instance, the article explores the way authors, film directors, and artists generally not only construct artifacts that elicit positive emotions but also negative emotions. It also proposes a model for understanding how the “aesthetic” is a relation and not a property nor an essence of the object (a film) nor something to be found in the subject (us viewing the film).
Reflexions and Questions on the Condition of the Human and Social Sciences in South Africa and Beyond
This aim of this article is to contribute to the debates regarding the condition and reform of the Humanities and Social Sciences (HSS). First, focussing on South Africa and the Humanities Charter in particular, the tensions and theoretical problems in this road map are explored through an analysis of three important themes: (1) the use of the word 'Africa(n)' in the Charter, (2) the articulation between basic and higher education and (3) the Charter's catalytic projects. The analysis explores the risks posed by precipitate recommendations for intervention in the HSS. Second, taking a step back to reflect on theoretical issues involved in institutional reforms of the HSS, three central issues in the practice of the HSS are highlighted. Clarity on these issues is essential to undertake responsible HSS reform anywhere in the world. These issues are: (1) the nature of academic liberty, (2) the organic link between the HSS and other disciplines and (3) the capability of the HSS to produce crises. The detour via these fundamental questions is an indispensible part of an approach to reforms which would be prepared in continuity with the major theoretical concerns of these disciplines and that would thus remain true to the practice of these disciplines.
Reflections on the Relationship between Internal and External Conditions of Knowledge Formation
Starting with Foucault's articulation of factors in the formation of an order of discourse, and Ludwik Fleck's ideas on the structures of thought collectives and thought styles, this article mounts some reflections on the relationship between internal and external conditions of knowledge formation. In particular, it will look at the productive function of thought constraints – discipline – in the formation and transmission of knowledge, and bring this consideration to bear on some perils besetting the humanities not only 'from without', but also 'from within', notably the turn from academic teaching to externally oriented professional training, and an uncritical, general-programmatic proclamation of 'Multi-, Inter, and Trans-Disciplinarity' ('MIT') reorganising discourses, disciplines and orders of knowledge.