Inaugural Lecture Explores Epistemic Freedom, Reflexivity and Light-working in the Quality Improvement of Public Governance
How can we ensure that there is epistemic freedom in the theory and practice of public governance?
This was the question posed by School Management, Information Technology and Governance academic Professor Fayth Anese Ruffin at her inaugural lecture.
Titled: The Rigor of Epistemic Freedom in Public Governance: Light-Working in Higher Education, Ruffin’s inaugural lecture forms part of UKZN’s Public Lectures series that may only be presented by newly-appointed full professors.
This milestone in an academic’s career is an opportunity to showcase exciting and ground-breaking research and teaching.
Drawing from over 30 years’ worth of experience spanning across law, business, government, the non-profit sector and academia, Ruffin unpacked how the principles of epistemic freedom, reflexivity and light-working all dove tail and come into public governance.
‘One way or another, public governance is involved in all sectors. Whether it’s in the business, management, NPO, NGO, regional, national, continental or global aspect, public governance abounds and this is why we must ensure that it has epistemic freedom,’ said Ruffin.
She added that unfortunately, individuals working within the public governance sector and other sectors get preoccupied with only having the same experts giving context and shaping the sector instead of all role players considering the bottom-context, designing Africanised theories and ways of knowing and being in the world.
‘When we look at epistemic freedom connected to public governance, this means exploring different types of knowledge systems and not just being led by knowledge that already exists but being willing to interrogate that knowledge and its sources. Reflexivity means professional and personal introspection and light-working is about the light we all possess as human beings. We have to ask ourselves, what energy are we emitting as academics, as students and people in the Higher Education landscape that want to make a positive difference in the country and internationally?’
Drawing on her vast professional experience as a multi-inter-trans-disciplinary academic committed to curricula transformation in Higher Education, Ruffin also spoke on research, knowledge generation, contextualised application of findings, community appraisal of application as well as curricula design and delivery as being key in the continuous loop of quality improvement in public governance.
‘We want to use varied research methodologies to generate knowledge that fits the South African and African context whilst contributing to the global pool of knowledge. We must contextualise our application of findings whether through master’s/PhD or academic research, and we need a community appraisal of that application. The community must come in and tell us if they think it’s working or not. That must then be filtered into curricula design and development because what we research and what we put in action we must learn from and then teach from that. Then we start to get this continuous loop of quality improvement for public governance or any sector.’
Ruffin used the concept of reflexive praxis to draw parallels from traditional, pre-colonial and intergenerational periods of time to highlight how ways of knowing, being and doing things are evolving and the work that needs to happen to highlight why public governance, as a study and practice, cannot be restricted to the prevailing status quo.
‘We talk about these ills - inequality, unemployment, poverty, but they didn’t come from yesterday. There are some structures; institutions and spirits that we emitted as human beings that have led us to where we are today in this era of coloniality. We must acknowledge that we are connected to each other and the natural environment and once we do that, the epistemic freedom becomes easier, then light-working becomes enjoyable and reflexivity becomes a part of our lives, whether we do that individually or communally.’
Words: Thandiwe Jumo