What is Not in a Name? A Response to the Griot
As a guest Grioter, I must apologise for intruding on Professor Keyan Tomaselli’s space. After reading the back issues of Griot, especially the one about his computer escapades, I am certain that this is a sacred space for the official Griot to do what he doesn’t do often in class: joke. Now that I have moved beyond the ‘public sphere’ to violate the Griot’s cyberspace, I will explain why CCMS (The Centre for Communication, Media and Society) is UKZN’s best kept secret. But first, to disagree with Shakespeare’s Juliet, I would rather say: what is not in a name?
My first encounter with the name Tomaselli was back in Uganda in 2009. As a first year Master’s student interested in development communication, I read his seminal introduction to a 1997 issue of the Africa Media Review. His argument was that communication for development had failed to understand ‘contexts which mobilise indigenous values and knowledge’. The title, “Action Research, Participatory Communication: Why Governments Don't Listen”, was appealing to me because I lived in a country where the government did not listen. Over time, I looked out for Tomaselli’s name more than his work because I found his output most times too heavy for a person like me, fresh from a career in journalism.
If the name came above the words, then the article was good enough. Because of the influence his work had on me, I tried to picture Tomaselli in my mind. He was a huge black man with an unkempt grey goatee and a potbelly nurtured by all the sitting required to write brilliant academic pieces. My Tomaselli also walked around with a bit of a limp in his left foot, talking to himself with a yellow sugar-free cup of coffee, which spilled all over the cemented floor. This way, his contemporaries could easily find him by following trails of brown coffee stains to his old wooden office door. Regardless, that Tomaselli helped me to get my Master’s degree in a country where academic facilities are not as abundant as they are in Glenmore where I now live a lavish life. For that, I fail to believe that Tomaselli, by any other name (Keyan Schwarzkopf) would have been great (my parody of Shakespeare).
In 2013, as a lecturer at a Ugandan university, the name Tomaselli reappeared. This time, it was Ruth (Teer)-Tomaselli. She was visiting my university as part of an arrangement for me to study a PhD at UKZN. I spent three days ‘investigating’ who this other Tomaselli was and why she was imposing on someone’s name. It was hard for me to picture this new Tomaselli because she was a woman and therefore, no goatee, no potbelly; I had nothing to work with. Then I ran to one of my senior colleagues who described the ‘new’ Tomaselli as an “accomplished academic”. I downloaded a few articles written by the “new one” and realised that she was not new in the academic sense.
During a two-day workshop among the people we refer to back home as Norwegians (they are the reason I am here), I had my eyes fixed on Tomaselli. I swear I could have pierced her skin with my red sleep-deprived eyes, if I wasn’t careful. My mind started to wander again. I could hear my voice talking to her directly: ‘Hey Ruth. How do you publish that much and manage to remain yourself?’ Later that evening, I sauntered near her to conquer my fear. I gathered all my deepest energy to say just one word: “Hello”. I have kept the suit I wore that first time I spoke to a Tomaselli safe so that I can show it to my children one day for inspiration.
I arrived at UKZN in January 2014 and, after looking for CCMS in several buildings, I finally showed up inside CCMS. On my way in, I ran into a woman who stormed out looking at me like I owed her child support. Probably she was just wondering what she was seeing in front of her: a Black mesmerised man with a crazy hairdo, wearing a red t-shirt. Ruth Tomaselli (not Ruth Teer-Schwarzkopf) welcomed me and did the unthinkable: she gave me a tour around CCMS. That was too much for my senses. Where I come from, if the Head shows you around, and you are not his/her relative, then it is around a disciplinary committee. CCMS was definitely the right place to be.
During the orientation, the body mapping exercise, helped me to visualise one’s personal goals in relation to the Self. This is a technique where students have other students draw a life size tracing of one’s body while lying on a long piece of paper. The owner of the body then populates the body with drawings and writing that visualize their academic goals as internal body parts in relation to the Self. As reality kicked in, body mapping revealed something to me that I had never cared to admit to myself. This class was also the first in which I ever gazed deep down into my soul and fetched something that disturbed me for a full week. It was one of the best practical sessions ever in my academic life. The CCMS facilitators, Lauren Dyll-Myklebust and Eliza Govender, helped me later to understand Development Communication. The challenge to me though remains how I can be a Tomaselli back in my own country. It is a question that keeps haunting me.
The point is that highly respected academics earn this recognition and enable a new generation to replace them when they retire.
PhD Candidate from Uganda Christian University
PhD student at the Centre for Communication, Media and Society (CCMS)Disclaimer: The views expressed in this column are the author’s own.s