Tuesday, 4 December 2018

Collaborating with other researchers; the student experience & building on our own knowledge base and theory

It is one of the great joys of my job that I get to collaborate with a peers, senior and junior researchers, from across South Africa, the continent and the globe. One great research project that involved such collaboration was the ESRC-NRF funded "Higher Education Pathways to the Public Good". The project looked at ways in which studying at university actually contributes in various measures to social justice, social cohesion, democracy, equality, sustainable livelihoods and freedom. The leaders of the project were the super-smart Prof. Paul Ashwin from Lancaster University and Prof. Jenni Case, formerly from the University of Cape Town, now Virginia Tech. 

Most closely I worked with Dr Philippa Kerr (who is in the middle of the picture in white and red). She was my Post-Doc in my last months at the University of the Free State and the literature review that underpins the chapter we wrote for Paul and Jenni's book was to a large extent the fruit of her diligently reading herself into a completely new literature.

I mean they are all great - what a fantastic team Jenni and Paul put together. I will certainly want to work again and again with people like with Thando Njovane, Mandy Hlengwa, Mary Masehela, Sherran Clarence, Thandeka Mkhize, Janja Komljenovic, Tristan McCowan, Ibrahim Oanda, Sioux McKenna, Rebecca Schendel, Suellen Shay and and and. They all have expertise in matters that I know just a bit about, and talking to them, and being able to listen to them and their knowledge, is always such a great pleasure.

Now what was different about this project is that it did not - in most cases - do new empirical research. So, no time was spent on interviewing people; constructing, distributing, and eventually analysing surveys; or any of that jazz. Nope. The idea here was to see what do we already know. You know, we are too often doing in the Social Sciences what happens even in the economy: getting the data and then not working on the beneficiation. It's like we are doing social mining rather than social science! Meanwhile, the science comes in with the theory part; it's not only about getting the methodology right -, oh no, - the science comes in when one works with knowledge rather than data... when we build a knowledge base and build from that knowledge base, empirically grounded, contextually relevant, indogen Southern theory; African theory. So sometimes we gotta go and stop mining for data, and start working through the findings of others, adding a layer of complexity. You know. All that Gold that's been mined in South Africa, and then most of it has just been melted and poured into the shape of a Gold Bar, and off it goes. Meanwhile, that very same Gold could be worked into much more... from jewelry to applications in science and technology. So you could say, this project really took a good step towards doing some beneficiation; working through existing knowledge, conceptualising, theorising (yeah, those my words :).

The book is available here - as always, I try to make sure it's open access. And thankfully, Paul and Jenni and the crew had the same commitment. By the way, the e-book has an index - that gives a good idea of where to find what.

In the case of Philippa and I, we decided to do a 10 year literature review, starting with three South African journals, on what actually has been researched and found about the undergraduate student experience. Our chapter is beautiful and shocking: if our dear political role-players, decision-makers, policy-makers, the so-called political and government leadership, the university leaderships, ... if they would actually read - yes read - what is known, what was known already in 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014 about how bad, how unacceptable, how injust, how traumatic indeed, the experience of studying at a university in South Africa is for many students - and particularly black students, female students, working-class and poor students, LGBTIQA students, - then there would not have been a 2015 or 2016, because hopefully, they would have responded to the very issues that the student movement, that #RhodesMustFall, #OpenStellenbosch, #RUReferenceList, #BlackStudentMovement, #FeesMustFall, #EndOutsourcing, and so forth, and so forth have raised and raised so desperately. My chapter with Philippa Kerr is here. Enjoy - it's a good and worthwhile read!