Notes on networks, connections and ‘work’

In this past fortnight, I have been fortunate enough to be accepted as a member of a newly formed network and as an associate fellow of a prestigious research institute.

The network is newly formed, though the debates and concerns which have led to its formations are not. Universities have always been fraught spaces, with foundations on shifting sand. A disparate collection of individuals, nationalities, institutions and disciplines grouped together under the over-arching umbrella of ‘Critical University Studies‘ ,  this network is being steered by Alison Wood whose interest in intellectual labours of the past seems to have peeked her concerns for how the university(s) in the UK are being buffered about in the present. In late January, we had an engaging day of workshopping ideas about what the field as an object and subject might be. To my mind, there seemed acknowledgement of the tensions between our perspectives of dis/belief in the evolutionary possibilities of ‘the university’, with strong conviction that the critical project needed a pragmatic turn in the current political climate.

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Image above: Taken at the first engagement of the network, which is supported by a British Academy Rising Stars Engagement Award. If you would like to know more about the network, please contact Alison, who is seated second on the left of the front row. I am the more grey-haired person second to the right in the front row.

The institute is The Senator George J. Mitchell Institute for Global Peace, Security and Justice which brings together seasoned and early researchers to grapple with the global challenge of ‘Peace, Security and Justice’. I applied to become an associate fellow, as I would like to facilitate fruitful connections between academics in various institutions in South Africa and those affiliated with this Global Research Institute. Legacy issues continue within the cultural institutions of higher education and critical arts education – traces of trauma, troubled knowledge and memory, a sense of injustice, persistent inequality, dynamics of de-legitimation and machinations of domination. Yet they are largely under-researched when it comes to Higher Education Studies, and from my lived experience, seem to have little currency within political rhetoric. Discourses of ‘transformation’ have rather been adopted, which mediate different interests. There is an urgency within higher education institutions in the country (which are currently beset by unrest and anxiety) to develop frameworks which reckon with historical responsibility in addition to facing pressing demands in the present, as there are facets within the current generation of students and academics actively seeking informed intellectual approaches.

Such connections were an integral part of my own desire to come to Belfast, to learn from the expertise here. Similarly, I hope to provide the participants, of the post-graduate courses I will be coordinating, such networking opportunities to explore similar areas of enquiry in diverse contexts across the globes, in the hopes of understanding complexities and nuance, and forging ways through to explore solutions. I feel extremely honoured to be provided both opportunities, and am anxious (as always) to get some fruitful work underway.

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