Fermented Ph.D. Dump: Applying Decontextualised Philosophy and the Struggle for Recognition

in Education6 months ago


A Tactical Recap to the Fermented Ph.D. Dump

Dump I | Dump II | Dump III | Dump IV | Dump V | Dump VI/Africa I | Dump VII/Africa II | Dump VIII/Africa III | Dump IX/Africa IV | Dump X/Africa V | Dump XI/Africa VI

The week has ended and a new one has sprung up, opened up, ready to be used. I am almost done planning my module and setting up the exam papers. This requires a rehash and reiteration of the work almost ad infinitum. At least it feels like I am doing the work over and over again. Whilst setting up the papers, I am also writing out the memo, so it is basically a reiteration, and now I am writing a post about it as well! Reiteration of the reiteration.

In any case, I feel like the students had a breakthrough this week, and it needs to be mentioned that I think this is some very important work. From the get go, it might be good to lay down a very important quote I use:

we are led to the claim that the disenchantment of students from working-class backgrounds with the discipline of philosophy, and the consequent downstream paucity of black academics, is the result of a philosophic practice, discourse and research agenda, and consequently university curriculum that is flagrantly not derived from, nor related to the existential realities of its place, time and audience,” (Lamola, 2016:507)


In this quote, the author begins by describing a situation in which students (people) of colour in apartheid South African could not pass philosophy exams on Plato (etc.) because, amongst other reasons, the work was not relevant to their lives and day to day situation. Recently, another scholar rather scathingly critiqued this situation and tells us that the question back then was on how to teach Plato (and Greek philosophy) in South Africa; but today, the question is rather whether we should teach it at all in a South African post-apartheid/post-colonial context. And this guides us to the above quote: our philosophy curricula needs to be relevant to the context in which we teach that course. This is a very important but complex statement that cannot be easily denied or accepted. It is based on two fundamental ideas which I call (i) applying decontextualised philosophy and (ii) the struggle for recognition.

Applying Decontextualised Philosophy

The idea of decontextualised philosophy is rather simple. Decontextualising philosophy is by (i) taking it out of the original context (think: Greek philosophy today in South Africa) and (ii) applying it as if universally applicable (think: using Socratic method of practicing philosophy to solve problems in South Africa today). The problem of philosophy being irrelevant to the student (person) of colour in post-apartheid/colonial South African becomes apparent. She cannot relate to philosophers writing from a different context in a different time. This statement is not aimed at reason or intellectual capabilities; arguments that was often made until even recently. It is aimed at the relevance that text or philosophy has to her and her lifeworld. Various authors, again writing very scathingly, state that Plato (etc.) is not relevant to the South African student; she needs a contextually relevant curricula that can affect her lifeworld positively.

This then relies on there being philosophy that is relevant to that lifeworld. And this is where the first major stumbling block hits us: what is relevant to the South African post-apartheid/colonial context? This being a relatively recent question, there are not many solutions. We are still struggling to “create our own”, so to speak. Recently, the notion of South African philosophy has gotten some traction. But the main problem is this: there is not enough recognition taking place and therefore a contextual curricula is still pending. We are merely applying decontextualise philosophy over and over again.

The Struggle for Recognition

There are two points to the term recognition I want to highlight, namely, (i) being recognised as a philosopher proper and (ii) recognising oneself in the other (or recognising being).


Being Recognised

Because of the current westernised educational system, anything vastly different will not be recognised fully. Many authors write for example how difficult it is for (South) African authors to get their work published in peer reviewed articles because they come the global south. Meaning that those from the global south is not recognised. Zondi (2021:235-236) in a recent publication writes for example that (South) Africa almost exclusively imports education and exports almost nothing. In other words, (South) African education is aimed at producing westernised subjects because we somehow hold the notion that our own is not good enough. South African philosophers are thus not being recognised as capable of creating their own.

Recognising Being

But this leads to the second problem which is that philosophers in training are not recognising their own teaching them. Because the system is geared towards creating itself, that is, western subjects with western education models/curricula, South African future philosophers will not see themselves, thus not knowing they can create their own. For example, the first female person of colour to get her Ph.D. in philosophy in South Africa only happened in 2018. Here she states this problem rather simple: she never saw female persons of colour philosophers at her university, so young females rarely think that they can become philosophers proper..

Postscriptum, or Seeing Oneself as a Whole

The double problem of recognition can simply be summed up as follows: if one’s own is not recognised, one will not recognise oneself in those who stand in front and teach. The fact that decontextualised philosophies are also applied, the problem is compounded. Consequently, knowledge and philosophies that emerge from the lifeworld of people are marginalised in order to study work from previous eras in a guise of value neutrality, as if applicable to and understood by all. The system just loved to produce itself over and over again. Preference is given to sameness in contrast to different. And this is really sad because unique perspectives are not heard, they are not produced, neither are they shared. The problem can be stopped by merely making space for difference. But difference and the status quo does not gel together.

In any case, I hope that you learned something from this post! The writing is my own, unless hyperlinked and/or stated otherwise. The photographs are also my own, taken with my Nikon D300 and Tamron zoom lens. Happy learning, be well!


I invite you to follow my account for all things academic.

Thank you so much! Looking forward to it. Keep well, my friend!

I find this analysis of yours very interesting and it opens up for me again the problem of Western art often taken as an example as universally recognized art. I think diversity is a very good value to work on in the fields of knowledge.

!discovery 40

Oh yes, art is a prime example of this problem. Even in African art, the works are sometimes sold as "artifacts" or "crafts" rather than art, or works that are part of culture or history are seen as art. It is really a funny situation. But difference and diversity are so important to uphold.

This post was shared and voted inside the discord by the curators team of discovery-it
Join our Community and follow our Curation Trail
Discovery-it is also a Witness, vote for us here
Delegate to us for passive income. Check our 80% fee-back Program

Congratulations @fermentedphil! You have completed the following achievement on the Hive blockchain And have been rewarded with New badge(s)

You have been a buzzy bee and published a post every day of the week.

You can view your badges on your board and compare yourself to others in the Ranking
If you no longer want to receive notifications, reply to this comment with the word STOP

Check out our last posts:

The Hive Gamification Proposal
Support the HiveBuzz project. Vote for our proposal!

I agree with you on this. Philosophy and the strings attached to it is in many cases hard for South Africans to grip. Like you said Pluto is not relevant to SA students. And it's difficult to put knowledge out that will have a wow impact and be recognised by the world. In the past year my colleagues and I have gone through many article rejections and 90% of the reasons came down to "It's SA based". How do we put out research from a SA point of view, how do we as philosophers add to the greater knowledge if we are put down due to the area we philosophy about?

Within my module I tend to focus a lot on Regional Planning Theories, Urban Planning Theories, Economic Theories and concepts that stem from these. While many of these theories and concepts are are straight from UK and Asia, it does influence SA planning. However my students get confused as to how we make use of them if they are not SA based. If started to include examples of real life cases liked to these theories and boy!! They way they have started to think! They come up with new ideas and ways to adapt these theories and concepts to SA. How planners can learn from the negatives of these theories and develop "patches" as they call it. How the positives of more than one theory can be incorporated to improve what we have.... It's wonderful to see these minds come together, work together and think deeper about what they are taught.

Exactly. Kopano Ratele, a psychologist, recently published a book in which he writes the same in a SA context for psychology. We import all these theories and when we from the SA lifeworld want to publish something, it gets rejected because it is strange for theories and so on to emerge from a SA place which is usually reserved for data collection and so on. Such a strange world we live in. Luckily, my work is in African philosophy, so it is a little bit better but not so much!

That is awesome to hear. It is good that they can produce their own, or make their own with that what is given to them. The future will be built on young minds that work together!