16 October 2013 Volume :1 Issue :7

Exploring Trends, Theories and Trans-Disciplinarity in the Humanities

Exploring Trends, Theories and Trans-Disciplinarity in the Humanities
From left are Professor Kopano Ratele, UNISA; UKZN’s Professor Sarojini Nadar and Professor Cheryl Potgieter; Professor Vasu Reddy of the Human Sciences Research Council; and DUT’s Dr René Smith.

The College of Humanities hosted its 2nd Annual Postgraduate Conference and Staff Research Colloquium attracting scholars from UKZN, Stellenbosch University, the Durban University of Technology and the University of Zululand to its various workshops, lectures, panels and research paper presentations.  

In her opening remarks, College Dean of Research, Professor Sarojini Nadar, outlined the five  main objectives of the Conference: (1) To identify trends, theories and levels of trans-disciplinarity in postgraduate research at UKZN and the wider national landscape; (2) To expose postgraduate students to scholarly critique through  peer-review; (3) To enable students to have their papers published in peer-reviewed conference proceedings (co-publication between postgraduate student and supervisor) as well as relevant DHET accredited journals; (4) To inspire and motivate developing academics to become recognised researchers and to contribute to the body of knowledge in the Humanities; and (5) To motivate PhD students to take up post-doctoral positions that will enable them to develop a research academic career. 

Delivering the opening address, Deputy Vice Chancellor and Head of the College of Humanities, Professor Cheryl Potgieter, said the Conference would produce not only peer-reviewed proceedings but an accredited conference proceeding publication.

‘With regards to research, the College, in keeping with the vision and mission of UKZN, aims to build a research ethos that acknowledges the responsibility of academic staff to nurture its postgraduate students and to be a pre-eminent producer of new knowledge that is both local and global in context,’ said Potgieter.  

The keynote plenary panel focused on the overall Conference theme of “Exploring Trends, Theories and Trans-disciplinarity in the Humanities” with Professor Vasu Reddy of the Human Sciences Research Council; Professor Kopano Ratele of UNISA and Dr René Smith of the Durban University of Technology discussing this particular theme. 

The aim of this panel was to obtain a variety of expert perspectives on the theme, “Postgraduate Research in the Humanities: Exploring Trends, Theories and Trans-disciplinarity”. Each of the panellists responded directly from the ambit of their own academic expertise.  

Reddy examined Food Studies as an intellectual object of inquiry in the trans-disciplinary, multi-disciplinary and inter-disciplinary context. ‘Once we understand food, we understand the human condition in all its complexity. It offers a key to various types of social organisation, uses of technology and patterns of daily life.

‘Food opens up the nature/culture debate and is always a part of an elaborate symbol system that conveys cultural messages. It’s also an emerging field of research in South Africa as compared to food studies from other countries. And food will always remain a central element of our cultural identity and food studies opens up the possibility for intellectual inquiry in respect of Humanities and Social perspectives,’ he said. 

Ratele discussed his academic journey within the Conference theme by looking at the three steps of an inter-disciplinary scholar starting with his time as a doctoral student at the University of the Western Cape under the primary supervision of Professor Cheryl Potgieter in which his study focused on the sexualisation of apartheid.  

‘I wanted to discursively understand how apartheid was being sexualised and even though at times I found it very difficult and I didn’t know what I was doing, my doctoral thesis laid the foundation for me to contribute to scholarly journals and books on sexualism.’  He advised postgraduate students to get a supportive research community which is trans-disciplinary to aid in the flow and exchange of ideas. 

Smith ended the plenary panel discussion by focusing on the “Media, Society and Trans-disciplinarity” in which she spoke of her experiences as an undergraduate student in the United Kingdom and at her current post as a Media Academic and Acting Deputy Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Design at the Durban University of Technology. 

‘Being trans-disciplinary allows one to think and go beyond the disciplines. The world is changing rapidly and if the way we are living is changing and if the way we are working is changing, I believe a different kind of research is required,’ said Smith. 

- Melissa Mungroo

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