Report on embattled humanities

The embattled humanities remain firmly in the spotlight with the publication this week of a draft ministerial report for public comment.

This follows the release of the Academy of Science of South Africa’s 200-page study two weeks ago, which diagnosed crises in the humanities and social sciences that threaten their survival as disciplines in tertiary study and research (“Humanities ‘stagnant for years’”, Mail & Guardian, August 5).

Minister of Higher Education and Training Blade Nzimande last year appointed Ari Sitas, professor of sociology at the University of Cape Town, to lead an investigation into the field.

“These areas have increasingly been downplayed as a result of the priority focus on natural sciences, technology and business studies,” Nzimande says in a statement included in the report. “Since 1994 government has focused attention on developing ‘scarce and critical skills’. While supporting these initiatives, [I have] become concerned with the relative neglect of the social sciences and humanities in universities and other post-school institutions.”

Prefacing the report, Nzimande speculates that “the increased commodification of knowledge or the need for academics to earn part of their incomes through consultancies” might have led to humanities scholars “having less time for purely academic work ... and not participating publicly in the larger social and political debates”.

The 70-page draft report can be downloaded from the higher education department’s website, and comments on the report will be accepted until September 30.

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