Declining funding over the past decade for tertiary education in South Africa resulted in tens of thousands of disillusioned students engaging in national protests during 2015 and 2016. The grievances were many, but included de-colonisation of curricula, together with a call that linked peer review to perceived forms of Eurocentric gatekeeping. This paper examines this claim in the context of assertions of “African ways of making sense” in relation to post-Enlightenment philosophy.
For the purposes of this analysis, indigeneity involves the contemporary performance of self by specific groups alienated from Western epistemologies, procedures and practices. These intellectual constituencies often claim ‘epistemic injustice’ in peer reviewing, and their response is to demand a restoration of relations with the group’s imagined past. Given that the Indigene’s historically unacknowledged claim to political primacy casts the constitutionality of all frameworks of relation in crisis, what are appropriate bases for peer review? My analysis examines how the relationships of self-proclaimed Indigenous African communities function in a contemporary era of ideological concern conceived largely through Western practices.
Whiteness, de-colonisation, de-Westernisation, indigenisation, transformation and epistemic resistance are a few recent terms, some more intellectually coherent than others, generated from the academic peripheries (both geographical and epistemological) with a view to challenging Western epistemological Enlightenment assumptions. These assumptions have been in some instances described as “epistemic injustices.” Injustice in this sense occurs when someone feels wronged in their capacity as a knower. A recurring example is when article submissions are rejected or returned for substantive revision because they are written in styles that differ from the ‘Western’ norm. It is argued that when applied instrumentally, this norm exerts a deflationary and even discrediting effect on the authors concerned. However, when an argument is based on the proposition “you are what you know,” it becomes difficult to engage, critique or refute.
In approaching this vexed topic, let me start with three quotations about the idea of transformation – which, in the South African context, is often linked with the rhetoric of indigenous knowledge systems (IKS) that were largely suppressed and regarded as superstition during the colonial era. The first is by Jonathan Jansen, at the time vice-chancellor of the University of the Free State, a formerly white, Afrikaans-speaking institution riven with racial tensions during the early postapartheid era. Jansen, the university’s first black vice-chancellor, observed that the “new racial nationalists are impatient and want short cuts … [U]niversities must be challenged to deal with the very real problem of racial gatekeeping and the spectacular lack of imagination in slowly but systematically building the next generation of especially black and women professors.”
Second, Nomalanga Mkhize, a lecturer in history at Rhodes University, points out that
[s]ome critics opposed to curriculum transformation confuse “curriculum decolonisation” with “curriculum displacement”. Some of the most reactionary critics within the university sector are, on the one end, conservative academics who fear the demotion of the European scholarly canon. On the other end, are the so-called left wing radicals who interpret transformation as a
“narrow racial project” that is driven by “identity politics”.
Third, according to Belinda Bozzoli, the liberal Democratic Alliance’s shadow minister for Education, a previous deputy vice-chancellor at the University of the Witwatersrand and a sociologist, “the word ‘transformation’ fails utterly to capture the depth of the problem of University staffing (which has failed to keep up with student enrolment). The meaningless and authoritarian word, which can mean what you want it to mean, in this case carries the implication that there has been some sort of conspiracy, racial gatekeeping or politically incorrect neglect by universities.”

Tomaselli, K.G., 2019. Indeterminacy, Indigeneity, Peer Review and the Mind–Body Problem. Junctures: The Journal for Thematic Dialogue, (20).

By Keyan G. Tomaselli
Originally Published in the South African Journal of Science: Volume 114 | Number 11/12 – November/December 2018

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