Research Themes

For the year 2021, WISER's research projects are:

These theme descriptions are currently under development.

Law and Personhood

Knowledge Futures

Locations of African Critical Theory

Digital Humanities

Oceanic Humanities

STS Africa

Regions 2020

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Law and Personhood

The assembling of a new set of South African and global citizenships has taken on new urgency and a new plurality twenty years after the supposed advent of freedom. Categories make persons and persons make categories, as Jones and Dlamini have recently pointed out. In the South African constitutional text – where the phrase ‘categories of persons’ is written – race is but one of sixteen categories on the formal list. Indeed, the effort of desegregating publics now takes place without the freshness of new symbols and with potentially merely symbolic institutions. In the public sphere, some responses harken back to earlier times – either to times of forward-thinking, to times of social-making, or even to times of separating. Other responses rest in a consumptive present or appear as mere promised rhetorical bridges into the future. In this project WISER will examine the new questions that scholars in the law and the humanities are posing themselves. What are the complex fashions in which bounded enclaves and social categories are fraying and unravelling or reforming? How, if at all, are persons remaking themselves as citizens? At the same time that these questions pose themselves, new fields of play are emerging with the changing audiences of the fashion shops and the sports terrains as well as the changing forms and formats of affluence and the new middle class. The very concept of a person as well as their categorical boundaries may shift with the movement of blood, organs, and self-awareness. See the latest on Law and Personhood at WiSER here.

Digital Humanities

A generation ago scholars worried that the African continent was structurally disconnected from the global network economy, and destined to drift backwards as the rest of the world accelerated into a technologically mediated future.  In the present something like the opposite seems to be happening as African states, citizens and firms have become objects of unconstrained digital experiment and innovation.  These experiments take many forms -- cybernetic research trials, biometric identity registration, mobile credit surveillance, cash transfers and a host of hacking activities -- but the combination is fashioning a 21st century Africa powerfully made by networked, mobile and numerical technologies. See the latest on Digital Humanities at WiSER here.

Knowledge Futures

This theme will focus on contemporary challenges to the University as a consequence of political contestations, epistemological reconfigurations, technological innovations and the emergence of new knowledge formations. It will examine the conditions under which traditional knowledge institutions might still be able to respond effectively to new learning environments and publics. What conception of the University would ultimately constitute the most effective response to the set of challenges it is being confronted with, in contexts both national and global?  - this research cluster asks. See the latest on Knowledge Futures at WiSER here.

Locations of African Critical Theory

Under this theme we aim to trace, and undertake new research in relation to, African inflected critical theory. This will involve drawing from various traditions of African and  African diasporic thought to begin to grapple with the  world not in any provisional sense but in ways which allow for a renewal of critical thought for our times. While locations such as Dakar, London and New York have often been the focus of work on African and African diasporic thought, we will shift our focus in this research cluster to other sites of thought including Maputo, Lagos and Lisbon. See the latest on Locations of African Critical Theory at WiSER here.

Oceanic Humanities

This project seeks to institute oceanic humanities as a field in the global south, through graduate curriculum development and training, research production, building supra-national global south research networks, and public humanities activities and platforms.  The rise of ocean levels has become a tangible sign of climate change and the Anthropocene.  These rising water levels have precipitated a new awareness of the ocean and have shifted the ways in which scholars think about it, inaugurating a new critical oceanic studies.  There have of course been long and rich traditions of maritime scholarship on human history at sea, tracing movements of people, ideas and objects across oceans. This work has however been human-centered and concerned only with the ocean as a backdrop.  Critical ocean studies asks us to engage with both human and non-human aspects of the ocean, with both the depth and the surface, with the materiality and seaness of the sea. See the latest on Oceanic Humanities at WiSER here.