The Transregional Center for Democratic Studies of the New School for Social Research, in collaboration with the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, conducted a highly successful Democracy & Diversity Institute, its 13th in South Africa, from January 8-24, 2015.
The idea of opening an Institute in South Africa was originally proposed by a small contingent of junior scholars from Johannesburg and Durban who had been invited in 1996 to take part in the original Democracy & Diversity Institute then running in Krakow, Poland (and now in Wroclaw). Unlike any other foreign study program, the Institute — which has kept its name and had 36 editions on both continents – is known among young civic-minded academics in many parts of the world as a demanding but personally transformative forum for study and discussion on critical issues facing today’s world.
This year’s institute in Johannesburg was organized in close partnership with the venerable University of the Witwatersrand, affectionately known as Wits (“vits”). Located in the heart of Johannesburg, in the artistic and cultural neighborhood of Braamfontein, the Wits campus provides the perfect gateway to an historically, politically, and culturally vibrant city. Our program offers a full semester’s worth of graduate-level seminars, which this year addressed the precarious citizenship of the foreigner; the debates generated by an intricate body of feminist theory and practice; the social construction and consumption of places; and finally, media and the role of the public intellectual. Building on the format of previous Institutes, each participant in the program enrolled in two courses, each course co-taught by a New School professor and a South African counterpart.
Rigorous academic work provided the basis for ongoing discussions outside the classroom, and was complemented by study tours, film screenings, and evening talks that brought us into lively contact with a diverse array of civic organizations, scholars, cultural critics, and public intellectuals deeply engaged in the politics of post-Apartheid South Africa. Our numerous guest speakers included the radio talk-show host Eusebius McKaiser; the writer William Gumede, a critical member of the African National Congress (ANC); and Anton Harber, former editor of the Mail & Guardian, one of South Africa’s largest daily newspapers.
The Institute brought together 34 young scholars and civil society practitioners from 13 countries in Africa, Europe, Latin America, North America and Asia. We were especially pleased to have with us 16 colleagues from Africa whose participation was made possible through the generous support of the Open Society Foundations in Sub-Saharan Africa.
For more information on TCDS’s Democracy & Diversity Institutes, including the announcement of our upcoming 24th annual Democracy & Diversity Institute in Wroclaw, Poland, July 2015, please visit the TCDS website at http://blogs.newschool.edu/tcds or write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org .