The Fabric of a Location: Democracy and Diversity in Johannesburg

The students and lecturers of the 2012 Democracy and Diversity Institute in Johannesburg.

It was one of the most rewarding experiences I have ever had.,
It taught me meaningful lessons about understanding the fabric of a location.,
I came home totally inspired.,

These quotes, the words of student participants in The New School’s 11th annual Democracy and Diversity Institute, reflect the positive, even transformational, experiences that came out of this year’s intensive graduate study program.

A project of the Transregional Center for Democratic Studies (TCDS) at The New School for Social Research, the Democracy and Diversity Institute offers over three weeks a semester’s worth of focused interdisciplinary graduate research on contemporary issues in global democratic life. This year’s institute, which ran January 5’21, brought together nearly 40 undergraduate and graduate students from disciplines as diverse as philosophy, law, and creative writing and from nations as varied as the United States, Kenya, and South Korea. For the first time, the institute took place in Johannesburg, where it was hosted and cosponsored by the University of Johannesburg.

As the intellectual, economic, and cultural center of South Africa and the gateway to the rest of Africa, Johannesburg was the perfect setting for the 2012 session,, said Elzbieta Matynia, director of the TCDS. Johannesburg’s incredible recent political and cultural transformations profoundly influenced and colored our discussions on the state of global society.,

The 2012 gathering had the theme The World in Crisis: A Critical Reading., Students took interdisciplinary courses led by professors from The New School and the University of Johannesburg that included The Politics of Violence and New Democracies, Old Questions. They also joined city tours and evening events that explored urban approaches to democratic transition, transnational migration, and diversity. And in true New School fashion, the institute fostered free, uncensored discussion between participants.

There was an interesting mix of participants with diverse backgrounds, who brought to the discussion varied perspectives, experiences, and knowledge,, wrote institute participant Elli Kriel, a PhD candidate from the University of Johannesburg.

According to Matynia, intellectual exchanges between African and American students and faculty were particularly productive. With the Democracy and Diversity Institute, we seek to create an international forum for lively and rigorous debate,, she said. It’s always an inspiration to see students from very different societies interact and exchange ideas, you know that they will come away from the experience truly changed.,

TCDS will hold its next Democracy and Diversity Institute this summer in Wroclaw, Poland. For more information, visit the TCDS website.