There can be few regions anywhere in the world with a more acute need for incisive, high-calibre social science research than Africa. Social institutions and networks are being transformed all over the continent. The rise of new sites of accumulation, the reconfiguration of political systems, the recomposition of gender relations, are as much part of a complex reworking of old social relations as responses to changing external circumstances. At a time of such rapid and tumultuous change, many current social processes are virtually uncharted, both empirically and theoretically.
The need for such research is even more acute in South Africa, rooted as it is in the fundamental damage done by apartheid to social institutions; in the daunting current levels of poverty, ill-health, crime and violence; and in the complexity of the historical moment, with global pressures bearing directly upon these local realities. At the same time, creative forms of social life are flourishing, as exemplified in the emergence of new urban cultures and identities, original forms of wealth creation and complex kinds of integration into the global economy. All these processes call for new forms on intellectual inquiry.
The response of the University of Witwatersrand to this need for cutting-edge, world-class research on the challenges of social and economic transformation is the creation of the Wits Institute for Social and Economic Research (Wiser).
WISER's key objectives are:
to establish an institute designed to produce social and economic research of quality and relevance
to position Wits at the forefront of social and economic inquiry on the continent;
to create a hub of intellectual exchange and collaboration;
to sponsor and promote doctoral study, in ways which contribute to the production of the next generation of scholars;
to disseminate research findings in ways which inform critical local and international debates.
The establishment of WISER will protect the space for independent, critical inquiry into the complexities of change in South Africa, while drawing upon comparative research from the rest of Africa and elsewhere in the world, and foregrounding the wider historical and theoretical significance of this research agenda.