The University of the Witwatersrand has appointed a new WISER Director: Professor Sarah Nuttall

Tuesday, 1 January, 2013 - 13:00

Sarah NuttallWISER is delighted to announce the appointment of a new Director.  Professor SARAH NUTTALL was a prominent member of WISER from 2000 to 2010.  She was born in South Africa and is a leading cultural commentator and critic.  Nuttall is a Rhodes Scholar and one of the outstanding scholarly figures of her generation in South Africa. She obtained her Honours and Masters Degrees at the (then) University of Natal and the University of Cape Town respectively.  She read for a D.Phil at Oxford and lectured in English at the University of Stellenbosch before joining WISER.  She has been a Visiting Professor at the Universities of Salzburg in Austria and at Yale, a Visiting Research Fellow at the University of California, and a Visiting Associate Professor at Duke University

Nuttall is recognized as an outstanding voice in the ongoing debates on cultural theory and particularly as a sympathetic critic of the post-Apartheid moment.  Her book Entanglement: Literary and Cultural Reflections on Post apartheid  explores mutuality, transgression and embodiment in the study of the aesthetics and politics of the surface objects of contemporary South Africa.

Nuttall has published in various journals including Cultural Studies, Interventions: International Journal of Postcolonial Studies, Journal of South African Studies and Public Culture.

Selected Books

Entanglement: Literary and Cultural Reflections on Post-Apartheid, Wits Press, 2009
Load Shedding: Writing On and Over the Edge of South Africa, Jonathan Ball Publishers, 2009
Johannesburg – The Elusive Metropolis, Duke University Press, 2008
Beautiful/Ugly: African and Diasporic Aesthetics, Duke University Press, 2007
Senses of Culture: South African Culture Studies, Oxford University Press, 2000
Negotiating the Past: The Making of Memory in South Africa, Oxford University Press, 1998
Text, Theory, Space: Land, Literature and History in South Africa and Australia, Routledge, 1996

Sarah Nuttall's interview with the Mail and Guardian

How do you feel about taking up your new role at WISER?
I feel very excited about it, and confident that I am able to do the job well. There is a fantastic team of people at WISER at the moment, in what remains the leading Humanities Institute in South Africa and a key intellectual node in the global South, in a University that still holds the edge in terms of social science research in Africa.

What do you hope to achieve as Director?
I would like to build on the record WISER has built over the past 11 years; to respond to the current moment in South Africa (a moment very different from ten years ago) in intellectual terms; to pursue the idea of a hub of thought and ideas with international reach. Wits is a city university and I would want to reactivate WISER’s tradition of being a critical resource for the city. Some keys areas WISER will pursue include the medical humanities, transformations of the state, Indian Ocean imaginaries, in which South African plays a key role, and emergent  questions from literary life and South African art worlds.  I would like to fill the corridor with multiple voices, and visitors from all over the place.
Most crucially, South African is at a crossroads: there is the feeling that things could go any of a number of ways right now. WISER has to help us to articulate and decipher what is at stake in the current South African moment, politically, socially, culturally. It has to interpret that moment, and then find alternative ways in which South Africa can sustain itself, its democracy and its contribution to the world.

So the Institute needs to develop a body of critical thought which is consonant with the opportunities and risks of the current moment.
Let me say lastly that some of the most interesting questions emerging from Johannesburg at present are being asked from the field of cultural production. WISER must then be a place where public culture and city culture interface with each other and the University with multiple city publics.  

Any other comments?
The thing that excites me about this job is the chance to work with different intellectual and social forces in this country who are interested in developing alternatives to the existing order of things. It’s a political and intellectual agenda which I think the moment requires.

Do you think your time every year at Duke University and the last two years at Stellenbosch will have shaped and contributed to what you have to offer as Director of WISER?  
The Director of an Institute such as WISER needs to have a hold on debates going on in Johannesburg, in South Africa, on the continent as a whole, and internationally. There is a need in South Africa to foster a conversation that is cross-regional and so my time in the Western Cape enabled me to access and understand the kinds of debates that are going on in that region. Duke University is a window into what remains one of the most powerful academies in the world, that of the United States. If we want to set the parameters of a global discussion on our own terms, we need to do so in the knowledge of what is going on elsewhere in the world.  My time at Duke and at Yale before that enables me to help to set the  terms of the further internationalization of WISER.

Your current official title and upcoming official title at WISER.
I am currently Research Professor in English at the University of Stellenbosch, and Visiting Professor at Duke University.  I am the Incoming Director of WISER.