The challenges of social justice in and of higher education

Offered in the form of a public address in Kolkata in January 2020 [1], this paper offers a number of reflections on the challenges that face higher education when it comes to social justice. Explicit within the title is the assertion that social justice is both to do with the content and form of the university – extending from the enactment and scholarship of its purposes and processes, through to the nature of the participation of its persons. To situate the discussion within the context and time of its oral presentation, the introduction posits that the constitutional commitments of so called post-colonial countries such as India and South Africa offer moral compasses for ‘social justice’ which require radical commitments. A number of provocative questions are posed to frame the discussion, namely (i) ‘Can systemic change be regulated within higher education?’; (ii) ‘How may the agential, the cultural and the structural be bridged, when the goal is change?’; (iii) ‘In the larger inter/national goals of social justice and large scale geopolitical change, in what ways is higher education a ‘special case’’?  A number of the challenges for higher education are outlined, before touching on the ‘openings’ which are present in the current moment, leading to a call to readers to ask, ‘‘How does one study the university, for social justice transformations?’  Throughout the paper are entangled the author’s reflections, positionality and concerns, drawn from her insights, expertise, networks and experiences as a researcher in Critical Higher Education Studies in the margins.  


[1] This paper was first presented by Dina Zoe Belluigi on the 27th of January 2020 at a public talk at Jadavpur University, hosted by the School of Women’s Studies. The talk coincided with a visiting lectureship funded by RUSA. A publication of it is in process. As such please use this reference:

Belluigi, D. Z. 2020. Recording of public talk ‘The challenges of social justice in and of higher education’ at Jadavpur University. Published on Broken Vessel.

Conversation with Dr Christopher Knaus about hope and oppression in higher education

Chris and I met very briefly at a conference on Diversity and Inclusion in higher education in Paisley (Scotland), presenting during the same slot. He challenged me at the time, and what followed were a number of email exchange between us, which has gradually opened into my being humbled and learning from his rich work in and about the borderlands of higher education. He describes the encounter and his work in his own words below:

I did interrupt you after hearing your lovely South African accent, and then as life would have it, we were actually on the same panel. I was also at that conference with two recently graduated doctoral students who are both higher education practitioners, and so my investment in them is what enabled us to connect in the first place, and your accent I might add was the second interlude.

As to my work, I am continually struggling with how to foster and support community resistance to the global onslaught against women of color, communities of color, and particularly how to do such from within higher education institutions designed to colonise. A decolonial approach seems necessary but insufficient to create and sustain new systems, and so I am increasingly focusing my work in collaboration with those who are not rooted within higher education systems.

The recording above was made during an online conversation in early April 2019. Chris shares insights into his personal motivations for engaging in issues of race, oppression and hope in higher education; and where he sees value for continuing engagement.

chris 2

For more about Chris’ work see his institutional profile.  Follow Chris on twitter at @cbkvoice