Stellenbosch University
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Postgrad students dissect transformation issues thanks to Mellon funding
Author: Lynne Rippenaar-Moses
Published: 16/08/2017

Twenty one postgraduate students from the Sociology and Social Anthropology Department in the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences came together recently to participate in a Postgraduate Student Conference made possible thanks to funding received from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation through the Indexing Transformation project.

In 2016 Indexing Transformation received a five-year grant of R11,2 million from the Mellon Foundation to support mainly student scholarships and a seminar series.

At the time of the launch of Indexing Transformation, Prof Steven Robins, the project leader said: "Indexing the Human [a previous project that was funded by the Mellon Foundation from 2014 to 2015} succeeded in catalysing critical reflection on the history of the human sciences in Stellenbosch, and in South Africa more generally. Our current project emerges out of this on-going concern with the nature of knowledge production in the human sciences. It is also the outcome of the recognition that our university spaces and intellectual work require serious examination in relation to persistent racial inequalities and obstacles to democratic, inclusive intellectual practice, a recognition amplified by recent student protests across South Africa."

The Postgraduate Student Conference forms part of the academic activities proposed as part of Indexing Transformation.

According to Dr Bernard Dubbeld, a Senior Lecturer in the department and the conference convenor, grants from major international donors like the Mellon Foundation have helped the department to nurture academic capacities among the university's students. This grant has allowed us to focus specifically on issues that pertain to contemporary transformation and produced analytical insights and understandings into pressing problems and challenges in South Africa and elsewhere on the continent.

“The aim of this conference was to offer a platform for Masters and doctoral students to present work in progress, to gain feedback from their peers and staff alike, and to give them experience in presenting in conference like scenarios," says Dubbeld. 

In addition, he noted, it was an opportunity to celebrate the quality and extent of student scholarship in the department. 

The conference featured 21 student presentations, focusing on a range of themes delving into contemporary issues in South African society, the African continent and globally. This included papers focused on:

  • the social and collective conditions of xenophobia;
  • witchcraft and witch hunts;
  • new mechanisms of public participation focusing on real-life examples such as the public briefings of shale gas development in the Karoo;
  • care, institutions and the dynamics of empowerment;
  • ethnographies of the new economy, focusing on, amongst others the intersection of formal and informal economies and computer gaming;
  • space, social transformation and citizenship focused on the reception of the SKA in Carnarvon and race, class and religion in Johannesburg; and
  • formations of resistance, which dissected issues around student activism, Open Stellenbosch and Afrikaans as a creolised language.

“Conferences of this nature provide our students with an opportunity to further strengthen their research and academic presentation skills and thus their CVs and to disseminate their research work to a wider audience. A further aim of this conference will be the development of the papers presented on the day into proper journal articles that can be published in peer-reviewed journals in future," says Mr Jan Vorster, Chair of the department. 

Photo: Twenty-one Masters and PhD students recently participated in the Postgraduate Student Conference made possible thanks to funding received from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. In the photo are the students Stephanie Borchardt, Sallek Yaks Musa, Cassey Toi, Safiyya Goga, Crystal Farmer, Sune Butler, Menan van Heerden, Ashwin Phillips, Dianne Lombard, Anne Wiltshire, Natasha Solari, Michael Passetti, Jackie Roux, Vanessa Mpatlanyane, Robert Nyakuwa, Kristen Harmse, Claudia Janse van Rensburg, Saibu Mutaru, and Leza Soldaat. Amon Ashaba Mwiine and Neil Kramm also participated in the conference but where not present for the photo.​ (Lynne Rippenaar-Moses)