25 Years

English Literature at the South African University in the Era of Rhodes Must Fall

Date: 
Fri, 10/27/2017 - 12:00pm
Event Location: 
Heller 537

Presenter: Kate Highman, Visting Scholar, University of the Western Cape

Abstract: Given its imperial legacy, the university discipline of ‘English Literature’ is a prime candidate for ‘decolonization’, as called for by South African students with increasing urgency since the start of the Rhodes Must Fall movement in March 2015.  Indeed, while elsewhere in Africa, political independence saw ‘the abolition of the English department’ (to recall the manifesto put out in 1968 by Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o, Taban Lo Liyong and Henry Owuor-Anyumba), South African universities still mostly host departments of ‘English Literature’, and there has been surprisingly little sustained self-reflexive enquiry into the discipline’s broader conceptualizations and local formations, despite some curricular reform.  This paper emerges from a larger research project into the history and politics of English Literature as a university discipline in South Africa and seeks to consider contemporary debates about the decolonization of ‘English Literature’ within this broader context and in conversation with current, transnational debates about the value of literary study.