Curricula as contested and contesting spaces: Geographies of identity, resistance and desire

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DOI: 10.13140/RG.2.1.4943.7208
University of South Africa, Version: Working draft, In Progress

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DOI: 10.13140/RG.2.1.4943.7208 ·Available from: Paul Prinsloo, Feb 01, 2016
Transforming the Curriculum: South African Imperatives and 21st Century Possibilities
1 February 2016
By Paul Prinsloo
This draft article was the basis for my presentation at a conference hosted by the
University of Pretoria (South Africa) with as theme: Transforming the curriculum: South
African imperatives and 21
century possibilities (28 January 2016). The slides for the
presentation have been uploaded on (link to the PowerPoint slides). Should
you wish to cite or refer to this draft article, I suspect 1 February can serve as publication
Please take note that this article is a work in progress and some of the issues
touched upon in the article still need further reflection. I also acknowledge that the article is
in need of language editing
In the broader and dominant social imaginary of higher education, education is seen
as a crucial player in (re)imagining a future that will not only address the ontologies and
epistemologies that informed and sustained the injustices of the past, but also disrupt the
seemingly endless cycles of inequality and exclusion. In our re-imagining of curricula as
providing maps for a more equal, just and compassionate future, we are torn between soft
and radical forms of reforms as we search for ‘a centre that holds’, curricula that would
provide us with vocabularies and blueprints to engage with the increasing instability
authored by crises of proposals and of utopias.
Curricula in higher education have therefore become ‘the battle of the maps’ where
more and more stakeholders demand a stake in how the maps are drawn and how these
maps charter specific futures. As such, these maps not only resemble the visions of identity
and desire as imagined by the meta-narratives of/in a particular time, but also offer
discursive spaces for alternative identities, desire and resistance.
In this presentation I aim to map (some of) the current discursive enunciations and
strategies contesting the long and persisting shadows of modernity and colonialism. I
propose that the decolonisation of higher education is neither a neat nor a linear process. I
would like to tentatively destabilize, open up, and keep open some of the controversies
surrounding the notion of decolonising higher education and slow down the processes of
getting to a consensus position of what decolonisation is and should be.
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In preparing for this address, I was wondering how do we talk about curriculum
transformation at this particular moment in South African higher education, considering the
tumultuous and often violent events of the last number of weeks. How do we talk about
curriculum transformation in “an age of protest” (Friedman, 2016), with ever-increasing and
vocal alliances of the aggrieved (Frum, 2016), where ‘[t]he tectonic layers of our lives rest so
tightly against earlier events in later ones, not as matter that has been fully formed and
pushed aside, but absolutely present and alive” (Booth 1999:260; emphasis added)?
Since last year discourses in South African higher education resembled the noise,
energy and often the discomfort of a medieval carnival marking “the suspension of all
hierarchal rank, privileges, norms, and prohibitions” (Bakhtin, 1984, p. 10). Bakhtin (1984)
states that the “[c]arnival was the true feast of time, the feast of becoming, change,
renewal. It was hostile to all that was immortalised and completed(p.10). In the Medieval
carnival, official truths were constantly questioned and treated with suspicion and replaced
by new and unofficial truths (Scott 1986; Hiebert 2003). The last few weeks were
characterised by (in the view of the general public and some faculty) blasphemous claims
and counter-claims with several mock crownings and subsequent de-crownings of the
carnival king “who [was] is the very antithesis of a real king, since he is in fact often a slave
or a jester (Scott, 1986, p. 6).
In considering the question “how do we transform the curriculum?” there are a
number of other questions lurking such as (but not limited to the) who are the “we” who
are doing the talking, who is included and who is excluded? It is important to note that I do
not question the need for the transformation of the curriculum. I do, however, want to slow
down our discussions without lessening the urgency of the discussion.
Another question lurking in the shadows is how do I as a 56 years old, white, gay
male talk about and participate in talking about the transformation of the curriculum? How
do I disentangle my tentative contribution from my position of being a settler, having grown
up in settler communities, schools, and going to a settler university where the language of
tuition was a settler language, where people of displaced communities and marginalised
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epistemologies were excluded? (See Prinsloo, 2014; as well as Tuck & Yang, 2012; Tuck &
Gaztambide-Fernández, 2013).
How do I talk about curriculum transformation while acknowledging the inherited
and entrenched privileges as male scholar? How do I talk about curriculum transformation
as gay scholar amidst the prevalent heteronormative and homophobic discourses on the
African continent (Amory, 1997; Epprecht, 2013; Jacques, 2014; Oswin, 2007)? Despite the
fact that my status as gay scholar implies a certain marginality in these broader discourses, I
cannot disregard the fact that my sex (male) and race (white) implies privileges even in my
experiences of being marginalised. (See Maritz and Prinsloo, 2015).
Therefore, I acknowledge the impossibility to disentangle myself from the
intersections and often incommensurable dynamics of my whiteness (with its histories and
continuing legacies; see Michael, 2016), my sex, and gender.Each of these tags has a
meaning, and a penalty and a responsibility(Achebe in an interview with Appiah, 1995, p.
103). (Also see Boellstorff, 2005).
In particular, as a white curriculum scholar and researcher, I want to acknowledge
that I cannot undo my whiteness. My whiteness with its epistemologies, ontologies and
histories taints everything I touch. By acknowledging my entangled and often
incommensurable positionalities “is not surrendering to the notion of victimhood and
suffering that is prevalent in the much of the current white, Afrikaner discourse” (Prinsloo,
2014, p. 10). “There is a vast difference between recognising the ‘historic burden of
whiteness’ and self-abasement or lame apologies (O’Hehir, 2014 quoted in Prinsloo, 2014).
In foregrounding my whiteness, I realise that there is a danger that my
acknowledgement can be seen as just another white confession, claiming center-stage and
privilege, seeking absolution and redemption (Baldwin, 2012). In following Maudlin (2014) I
accept moral innocence as impossibility. I agree with Maudlin (2014) that “[t]he
abandonment of hope as an ethical imperative for White curriculum scholars is a difficult
proposition, as it should be” (p. 150). So, while I try to map the curriculum as contested and
contesting space, my struggles with the “abandonment of hope” as a white curriculum
developer and researcher are a leitmotif throughout this article.
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In order to further clarify some of the beliefs that inform my understanding and
contribution of the transformation of the curriculum, allow me to add some further claims
or disclaimers:
I believe that there are some things that education (on its own) cannot do
Degrees cannot fix the cumulative effect of structural racism that doesn’t just
reinforce the link between family wealth and returns to educational attainment in
the labour market but exists as a primary function of that link (McMillan Cottom,
2014, par. 17). To “expand education in an unequal society without a redistribution
of resources, you will [merely] reproduce inequality” (McMillan Cottom in Prinsloo,
Considering that colonialist curricula followed and flowed from land expropriation
and epistemicides, changing the curricula cannot undo the structural realities of the
colonialist inter-generational legacy.
I also believe that knowledge is not an unqualified good. Gray (2002) suggests that
“The uses of knowledge will always be shifting and crooked as humans are
themselves. Humans use what they know to meet their most urgent needs even if
the result is ruin” (p. 28). Gray (2004) furthermore suggests that “Human beings use
the power of scientific knowledge to assert and defend the values and goals they
already have(p. 106; emphasis added).
More (or different) knowledge therefore does not necessarily result in more justice
(See Prinsloo, 2015b).
I also don’t belief in the redemptive power of the neoliberal mantra of progress and
unchecked growth. “History is not an ascending spiral of human advance, or even an
inch-by inch crawl to a better world. It is an unending cycle in which changing
knowledge interacts with unchanging human needs. Freedom is recurrently won and
lost in an alternation that includes long periods of anarchy and tyranny, and there is
no reason to suppose that this cycle will ever end” (Gray, 2004, p. 3).
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I belief that when looking the history and legacy of colonialism, apartheid and
disaster capitalism in the eye, we frantically look for a new centre that holds, new
lists of skills or competencies, new curricula, that will, somehow, move us away from
the gaping cliffs of despair. We are like the three little pigs that are constantly on the
run from the big bad wolf that destroys our latest efforts to ensure safety and
stability. “… We no longer possess a home; we are repeatedly called upon to build
and then rebuild one, like the three little pigs of the fairy tale, or we have to carry it
along with us on our backs like snails” (Mellucci in Bauman, 2012, p. 22). The
curriculum therefore becomes our hope for creating a centre that holds… As such we
experience a “crisis of proposals and a crisis of utopias” (Max-Neef, Elizalde &
Hopenhayn, 1991, p. 1) in a time “when the old is dying and the new cannot be
born” (Gramsci, 1971, p. 110).
And finally, I belief that no curriculum is neutral (Petrina, 2004; Chisholm, 2005)
[d]colonisation is the meeting of two forces, opposed to each other by their very
nature… [t]heir first encounter was marked by violence and their existence together
that is to say the exploitation of the native by the settler was carried on by the
dint of a great array of bayonets and cannons (Fanon, 1963, p. 36)
“But all our phrasing race relations, racial chasm, racial justice, racial profiling, white
privilege, even white supremacy serves to obscure that racism is a visceral experience,
that it dislodges brains, blocks airways, rips muscle, extracts organs, cracks bones, breaks
teeth. You must never look away from this” (Ta-Nehisi Coates, 2015, p. 10)
“I am wounded. I am marked by old codes, which shielded me in one world and then
chained me in the next” (Ta-Nehisi Coates, 2015, p. 125)
The title of my address “Curricula as contested and contesting spaces: Geographies
of identity, resistance and desire” speaks of spaces and geographies declaring my intention
to ‘map’ the terrain of curriculum transformation with an emphasis on South African
imperatives and 21
century possibilities. The curriculum as space, as map of a particular
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problem-space and the act of curriculum development as drafting a map provides one
particular lens into curriculum development.
Excursus: The metaphors we use to describe and understand phenomena are not per
se benign but are consciously chosen to assist us in understanding a particular phenomenon,
and also shape future understandings of the phenomenon to the exclusion of other
understandings (Lakoff & Johnson, 1980). As such, metaphors structure both thinking and
action. Metaphors are “pattern-making devices that situate or locate patterns within their
larger social contexts; they are [also] decentering devices” (Beddoes, Schimpf, & Pawley,
2014:3; emphasis added) that stimulates thinking and broaden/disrupt our epistemic
boundaries. As such a well-chosen metaphor can be a useful and important tool “to
comprehend partially what cannot be comprehended totally” (Lakoff & Johnson, 1980:193).
Any act of ‘mappingincludes and excludes and as such, the cartographer and the
cartography office has an almost unsurpassed and often unquestioned power. Bauman
(1998) explores the “battle of the maps” and states that the person or power who
controlled the cartographic office was the most powerful (p. 31). In the cartographer’s
office, terrains and spaces are subordinated to “one and only one, officially approved and
state-sponsored map” (p. 31). Where the cartographic office historically started off by
officialising space, as it were, by mapping it, maps became important tools in the hands of
the powerful to ‘reshape’ spaces. “Before, it was the map which reflected and recorded the
shapes of the territory. Now, it was the turn of the territory to become a reflection of the
map…” (Bauman, 1998, p. 35).
The cartographer is therefore not a neutral person and relates to and serves external
powers. The result of these relationships and power-play is a map that has an internal
power through its use of images, its symbols and its technical and graphic language. This
results in the original selected information and knowledge becoming further restricted and
coded. The reader therefore engages with a simplified, selected and coded document. In
using cartography as metaphor for curriculum development, the power embedded in the
curriculum process becomes visible, echoing the remark by Bauman (1998) that the one
who controls the cartographic office is the most powerful person.
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Let us now turn to mapping curriculum transformation and some tentative
Mapping Curriculum Transformation
We need to interrogate and understand the notion of the ‘transformation’ of the
curriculum in the social imaginary of higher education and its function as a communal great
raft of beliefs(Appiah, 2006, p. 41). In the social imaginary, the transformation of the
curriculum conjures up different contesting beliefs and knowledge claims such as whose
knowledge is valued, who determines the curriculum, who are the gate keepers of the
curriculum and so forth. There is, however, also a danger that in talking about the notion
and praxis of transforming the curriculum, we use the word ‘transformation’ as buzz word
as we two-step to the beat of the next catch-phrase whether it is ‘disruption’, ‘innovation’,
and/or ‘excellence’. There is a real danger that the notion, potential but also the challenges
in transforming the curriculum gets caught up and hijacked in the broader rhetoric in higher
education amidst other “hopeful fictions” (Taylor, 2015, quoting Ron Barnett) and drowned
in “superlatives and meaningless aspiration” in our strategy documents and operational
While the need for the transformation of the curriculum is relatively uncontested,
there are, however, no consensus of what a transformed curriculum should look like and
what this transformation should achieve. As I will discuss in the second part of the article
when I table four spaces of enunciation, there are not only different ways to transform the
curriculum from soft-reform, to radically reform the curriculum and also the possibility
that the curriculum is beyond-reform, but each of these reform spaces will be informed by
the intention of the reform process. Some of the current discourses, internationally, and in
the South African higher education context include tensions between internationalisation
and localisation, a return to moral education and family values as presented, citizenship
education, neoliberalism, employability and postcolonialism.
Not only are the discourses surrounding curriculum transformation “a great raft of
beliefs” (Appiah, 2006, p. 41), there are various claims on the curriculum and any effort to
redefine or transform the curriculum, has to take cognisance of these different elements of
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the curriculum as contested space (see Figure 1). Seeing the curriculum through the lens of
the different claims to the curriculum, also allows us to see how the curriculum can become
a contesting space a space for formulating counter-narratives in naming oppressions and
imaging alternative knowledges and ways of being-in-the-world.
As Figure 1 (below) illustrates, the different elements of contestation are
multidimensional, overlapping, interacting and often mutually constitutive. It is very hard (if
not impossible) to consider, for example, the ‘who’ of curriculum transformation, without
considering the ‘what’, the identity and role of the ‘gatekeepers’, the impact, potential and
perils of technology, and so forth. These seven elements are furthermore do not represent
the complete dimensions of curriculum transformation but are a selection to illustrate the
notion of the curriculum as contested and contesting space.
Figure 1: The different elements of curriculum transformation
Who are the we’?
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Firstly, let us consider who has the responsibility or who claims the responsibility to
formulate and develop curricula, but also who have a stake in any effort that will attempt to
transform curricula. Who are the ‘we, who are responsible, who map and endorse the
drafted maps? Who are the cartographers? What are their expertises? Who is not in the
cartographers’ office and why? What are the skills, capabilities needed to participate in a
curriculum transformation process?
In the South African higher education context, statistics show that only 14% of
university professors are black (Van der Merwe, 2014) and the vast majority of researchers
in higher education are still white and male (Habib, Price & Mabelebele, 2014). At the
University of South Africa (Unisa), the largest distance education provider on the African
continent, in 2014, of the total of 504 associate and full professors, 68% was over the age of
50 (Prinsloo, 2014). In the context of the UK, recently released statistics (Grove, 2016) that
female professors “now account for 23% of professors” (par. 8). In the North American
context, there are not only fewer women at the top of the academic hierarchy, but they are
also paid less than men (Mason, 2011) and account for only 23% of the professoriate. Male
academics have a 4-to-1 chance of being interviewed compared to female scholars in the
same field (Dione, 2013).
Barnett (2000) points to the fact that higher education is no longer the “sole or even
the main source of production of knowledge in society” (p. 410) and that the number of
role-players in knowledge production has increased.
Let us also not forget the role of publishing houses such as Pearson, Wiley-Blackwell,
Springer and many others in determining worthwhile and valuable knowledge (Larivière,
Haustein, & Mongeon, 2015).
What about the role of celebrity professor who also happen to be white and male
in the context of massive open online courses (MOOCs) offered by a range of Ivy League
and other alliances from North-Atlantic contexts (Burd, Smith, & Reisman, 2014;
Czerniewicz, Deacon, Small, & Walji, 2014; Fournier, Kop, & Durand, 2014)?
What are the roles of institutional management, regulatory and quality assurance
bodies in using funding regimes and accrediting mechanisms to steer curriculum
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transformation in a particular direction? Do higher education and faculty management
shape curriculum development and the transformation of the curriculum through providing
(or not) ample resources for curriculum transformation?
Sadly missing from the cartographers’ office are students as official stakeholdersor
maybe they are there unofficially - occupying campuses, protesting, using social media
campaigns to produce counter-narratives (e.g. #RhodesMustFall, #BlackLivesMatter,
While the above examples are anything but a comprehensive list of the ‘who’ in
curriculum transformation, the selection does illustrate that the ‘who’ in curriculum
transformation may be much more dynamic and embedded in various power-relations and
networks, than we may assume when thinking about the transformation of the curriculum.
All of these role-players have a stake in either protecting the current curriculum, or vested
interests in transforming the curriculum.
In the South African higher education context, if the current energy surrounding the
student protests is to be used as impetus for transforming the curriculum, we will have to
seriously consider the ‘who’ and acknowledge the vested interests, disciplinary legacies,
and so forth in resisting any curriculum transformation effort.
How does the Transformation of the Curriculum Impact the ‘What’?
Our thoughts about the ‘what’ are closely linked to our views on our assumptions
regarding the function and mandate of higher education. We therefore need to take
cognisance of not only the disciplinary legacies as foundational in curricula, but also become
sensitive of the “absences and silences” (Morley, 2012), who is ‘invisible’ and who is
‘invisible’ in our curricula. In a beautiful post by Mark Murphy (2016) he explores not only
the notion of being invisible but the costs of being invisible. Murphy asks “how do you make
people look at you when they can’t even see you? How do you make them take notice in the
first place?” (par. 11).
Grosfoguel (2013) may therefore be onto something when he asks
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How is it possible that the canon of thought in all the disciplines of the Social
Sciences and Humanities in the Westernised university is based on the
knowledge produced by a few men from five countries in Western Europe
(Italy, France, England, Germany and the USA)? How is it possible that men
from these five countries achieved such an epistemic privilege to the point
that their knowledge today is considered superior over the knowledge of the
rest of the world? How did they come to monopolise the authority of
knowledge in the world? Why is it that what we know today as social,
historical, philosophical, or Critical Theory is based on the socio-historical
experience and world views of men from these five countries? (p. 74)
Referring to the galaxy of African scholarship (Maserumule, 2015) and indigenous
knowledges it is important to consider that it may be relatively easy in human and social
sciences to contest North-Atlantic claims to knowledge, but years of deliberate
epistemicides (Grosfoguel, 2013) and exclusions may make it more difficult in fields such as
chemistry, astronomy and physics.
In the South African higher education context, the demands of industry and
professional bodies are increasingly not only suggesting, but prescribing specific content
often implicitly blackmailing faculty and higher education institutions with the threat that
should their demands not be met, that students may find themselves excluded from
employment. Referring to the mythological figure of Medusa, Prinsloo (2012) state that
faculty and higher education institutions are caught in the gaze of the “hegemony of
employability” and proposes that though employability is a legitimate outcome of higher
education, it is not the only outcome to the exclusion of other pressing societal needs such
as addressing inequality and social justice (p. 90).
In the broader context of higher education, Barnett (2000) points to the increasing
evidence that different (often contesting) knowledges are emerging and that the “claims for
validating knowledge claims are widening” (p. 410). “[K]nowledge has given way to
knowledges” (p. 410) and knowledge has become “performative in character and [has lost]
its power to enlighten” (p. 411).
In the second part of the article in discussing four spaces of enunciation (de Oliveira
Andreotti, Stein, Ahenakew, & Hunt, 2015), it will be pointed out that the question on the
‘what’ of the curriculum and the impact and scope of transformation efforts on current and
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alternative epistemologies, separate the soft- and radical-reform spaces. As will be
discussed, in the soft-reform space, no epistemological change is envisaged as
transformation efforts in this space will not question current epistemologies.
In mooting the notion that the curriculum is a “contested space” (Prinsloo, 2007) and
“an arena of struggle” (Shay, 2015), whatis included and excluded boils down to the
question whose knowledge is worth more and finally, the question “who owns the future?”
(Lanier, 2014). Which brings us to the question - Who are the gatekeepers of the
curriculum? Who decides the scope and content of worthwhile knowledge?
The Identity, Role and Power of the Gatekeepers
In exploring the roles, identity and power of the gatekeepers of the curriculum, it is
crucial to understand that those who currently have the power to decide what is included
and what is excluded will not, without struggle, let go of the power… The gatekeepers have
vested interests (whether monetary, reputational, positional, etc.) in maintaining their claim
to watching the gate.
So who are gatekeepers?
The first stakeholder who comes to mind is the edifice of professoriate
(Maserumule, 2015) who asks the question, “Why Africa’s professors are afraid of
colonial education being dismantled?” While Maserumule 2015) acknowledges the
role of race and gender (white/male) he also states that
… being white does not necessarily mean being anti-transformation. In the
same way, being black is not synonymous with transformation. There are
white professors whose sense of transformation is more remarkable than
that of some black professors. So, reference to black and white is beyond
pigmentation. It is, in the logic of the Black Consciousness philosophy, about
a state of mind: ideas and attitudes that ought to underpin a strategic gaze to
transformation (par. 5)
Disciplines and faculty often have “collective amnesia” (Olusoga, 2016), selective
memory, and wilful and stubborn ignorance of the need to question their own
assumptions and claims. Disciplines did not originate out-of-the-blue and what is
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considered today as a ‘discipline’ is the outcome of contestations regarding what is
and what is not part of a discipline.
In the context of South African higher education it is also important to point to the
role of retired professors whose handbooks are still prescribed as the unquestioned
gospel often resembling blatant and rampant academic entrepreneurialism.
We also have to consider the role of regulatory bodies, industry and accrediting
authorities who, often, don’t necessarily see higher education’s role as serving social
justice and interrupting neoliberal discourses and breaking cycles of economic and
societal inequalities?
We should remember that craft associations and guilds, whether comprising
mask carvers in Benin or weavers in India, all had the same basis, namely the
celebration and acknowledgement of expertise; exercising the monopoly on their
craft in a particular geographical area; and regulating and sanctioning access to
the specific expertise base. Davenport and Prusak (2000), in discussing the
measures taken to protect expertise, note that: “Guilds protected their special
knowledge; governments prohibited the export of economically important skills.
France, for instance, made exporting lace-making expertise a capital crime:
Anyone caught teaching the skill to foreigners could be put to death(par. 53).
(Also see Belfanti, 2004.)
And what about the oligopoly of academic publishers in determining not only what is
worthwhile to know, but also making this worthwhile knowledge available at a cost
(Larivière, Haustein, & Mongeon, 2015)?
The disparate claims of an increasing number of stakeholders on the curriculum in
higher education link directly to our next consideration what are the roles and the
function of higher education?
The Role and Mandate of Higher Education as Factor in Transforming the Curriculum
There are multiple and often contradictory claims regarding the changing role of
higher education in the 21
century (eg Barnett 2000; 2009; Blackmore, 2001; Giroux 2003).
These authors (among others), for example, differ regarding how higher education should
respond to the impact of neo-liberal capitalism (Giroux 2003); managerialism and the
corporatisation of higher education (Diefenbach, 2007) and the changing role of higher
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education within the context of globalisation (Barnett 2000; Blackmore 2001). Despite
different opinions on how higher education should respond, there is general agreement that
universities are no longer the “primary producers, determiners, transmitters, and
authorisers of valued knowledge(Blackmore, 2001, p. 353; see also Barnett, 2000). Giroux
(2003) furthermore claims that higher education has become the handmaiden” of
corporations in an “age of money and profit, [where] academic disciplines gain stature
almost exclusively through their exchange value on the market, and students now rush to
take courses and receive professional credentials that provide them with the cache they
need to sell themselves to the higher bidder” (p. 182). Blackmore (2001) talks about
academic capitalism” where academics “sell their expertise to the highest bidder, research
collaboratively, and teaching on/off line, locally and internationally” (p. 353). Performativity,
creeping vocalisation and the subordination of learning to the dictates of the market has
become an open, and defining, principle of education at all levels of learning(Giroux 2003,
p.185). While these authors disagree whether the above constitutes a ‘crisis’ or is part of the
‘natural’ evolution of higher education (e.g., Blackmore 2001); it crucially informs our quest
in considering the role of higher education. While preparing graduates for employment is
not excluded from the general mandate of higher education, Giroux (2003,) proposes that
higher education’s first and foremost role is to “educate students for active and critical
citizenship” (p.193). Redefining higher education as “moral and political practice” means,
according to Giroux (2003) contesting the “market-driven juggernaut [which] continues to
mobilise desires in the interests of producing market identities and market relationships
that ultimately sever the link between education and social change while reducing agency to
the obligations of consumerism. The liberal democratic vocabulary of social justice has been
replaced by the lure of the ‘lotto, casino capitalism and the Dow-Jones Industrial Average’
(Giroux 2003, p.180).
Exploring different futures of the university, Staley (2015) state that our ideas about the
university is “hopelessly impoverished” (par. 2, quoting Barnett) and that most of our ideas
about disruption and transformation focus on the potential of technology. “Our vision for
the future of higher education thus falls between Luddism and technological disruption”
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(Staley, 2015, par. 3). He formulates 5 speculative designs to open up the discourse about
the future of higher education. His designs include
The Polymath University providing graduates with the opportunity to have three
majors selected from the professions, the sciences and social sciences, and the arts
and humanities.
The Nomad University with no physical location and courses organised around
specific problems, looking for and formulating(alternative) solutions
The Interface University where education will resemble a symbiosis between human
and computer intelligence where computers will act as “intellectual prosthetics”
The Neo-liberal Arts College providing graduates with broadly applicable and
transferable skills
The Ludic University (or the University of Play) where the “university has no set
curriculum, no prescribed set of courses to follow. Students follow their curiosity,
exploring those subjects necessary to satisfy that curiosity on an as-needed basis.
Considering the mandate and role of higher education, different stakeholders will lay
claim to the curriculum. Not only do we witness the curriculum as contested space, but we
need to foreground the curriculum as contesting space where the curriculum becomes
and can become a space for contesting dominant epistemological claims and assumptions
and formulate alternatives and counter-narratives. In concluding this article I will briefly
report on Barnett’s (2000) proposals in considering the nature and role of higher education
in an age of supercomplexity.
The Scope and Impact of Technology on Curriculum Transformation
While it is easy to repeat claims that the Internet has made access to knowledge and
information within reach of everyone, this is only partly true. Yes, the Internet has created
unimaginable and countless ways to produce, share and have access to information and
disparate sources a phenomenon explored by Brabazon (2007) in “The university of
Google. Education in the (post)information age.” While it is no doubt true that we can
(re)produce and share information as well as have access to information at the click of a
button, we need to remember that not everyone is included, and that everyone is affected
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(Castells, 2009; World Bank, 2016 ). The Internet is not a neutral space but a contested
space where local and global voices, ideologies and power jostle for the maximum number
of clicks. There are also concerns that the Internet may be shallowing information (Carr,
2010), creating filter bubbles (Pariser, 2011) where personalisation algorithm filters provide
us with carefully and increasingly biased information based on our search histories and our
digital dossiers.
Excursus: While considering the shallowing effect of the Internet and the way the
Internet acts as filter bubble, we also need to seriously consider our current curricula and
prescribed textbooks that may also act filter bubbles and only expose students to selected
views and readings based on the grounds of the expertise, views and networks of faculty.
Also worthy of consideration is the issue of Big Data which, according to some
claims, will make all theory superfluous… (Anderson, 2008).
How do we transform a curriculum with so much information and knowledge
available, often as open educational resources? How do we use our curricula to empower
students to evaluate and disrupt knowledge claims and formulate and share alternative
understandings and counter-narratives?
The Impact of Macro and Institutional Contexts on Curriculum
Some Selected Issues in Higher Education’s Macro Context that Impact on Curriculum
What does curriculum transformation look like when/where
There is talk about a “runaway inequality” (Oxfam, 2016) where the richest 1% now
have more wealth than the rest of the world combined (Also see Piketty, 2015;
World Bank, 2016) and the financial divide is based on racial lines (Moore, 2015).
The increasing numbers of unemployed and refugees are seen as “redundant”,
“disposable” (Bauman, 2004, p. 12), as the “’collateral casualties’ of progress”, (p.
15) and the new class of “untouchables” (p. 59)
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There is talk of “unprecedented greed”, “fanatical capitalism” (Giroux, 2008, in
Bauman, 2011) and a new class, namely the “precariat” (Standing, 2011) consisting
of the permanently disenfranchised.
“…pathological consumption has become so normalised that we scarcely notice it”
(Monbiot, 2012)?
We look for middle-ground between forgiveness and restitution, revenge versus
justice (Jirsa, 2004) caught in the dialectic between apartheid, Ubuntu and nation-
building (Marx, 2002)
When higher education contributes to the increasing stratification of society instead
of decreasing inequality and injustice (Wakeling & Savage, 2015)
We have now entered the age of the anthropocene or capitalocene (Moore, 2016)
There is talk of a fourth industrial revolution (Schwab, 2016) with robots taking over
jobs, and the increasing blurring between humanity and machine
There are more and more alliances of the aggrieved (Frum, 2016)
We are entering a new Dark Age characterised by global warming, water shortages
and climate refugees, unstoppable global migrations, and non-state actors with
extreme weapons, to mention but a few of the elements of the 21
century explored
by Martin (2007).
The above pointers are anything but a comprehensive list but serve the purpose to
point to broader concerns that we need to consider in re-imagining the role and mandate of
higher education in staring back at Medusa (see Prinsloo, 2012).
Some Selected Issues in Higher Education’s Micro or Institutional Context that Impact on
Curriculum Transformation
We also cannot ignore the micro or institutional context in our deliberation about
the transformation of the curriculum. Already in 1995 Hartley mooted the notion of the
“McDonaldisation” of higher education with the mantra of efficiency, quantification,
calculability, predictability and control. Changes in funding regimes resulted in the directive
that “fundingfollows performance rather than precedes it” (Hartley, 1995, 418). (Also see
Altbach, Reisberg, & Rumbley, 2009).
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There is also ample and increasing evidence of the corporatisation of higher
education and vast growth in the for-profit sector of higher education (Morrey, 2004). We
also need to ask how the current dominant models of neoliberalism and its not-so-humble
servant managerialism are impacting on higher education (Deem, 1998; Deem &
Brehony, 2005; Diefenbach, 2007; Peters, 2013; Verhaeghe, 2014). How does the notion and
practice of “academic capitalism” (Rhoades & Slaughter, 2004) where academics “sell their
expertise to the highest bidder, research collaboratively, and teaching on/off line, locally
and internationally” (Blackmore 2001, p. 353) shape curriculum transformation?
The professoriate is also compelled to do more with less, while being blamed for
“the ever-expanding list of the university’s system’s shortcomings” (Altbach & Finkelstein,
2014, par. 3). Not only are salaries lagging, but there is increasing evidence that the middle-
class existence of professors is a thing of the past and many professors now moonlight to
make ends meet (Saccaro, 2014). Higher education has not been put on a diet, but is
increasingly starved by government policies and changing funding agreements. There are
also concerns that “universities focus too much on measuring activity, not quality”
(Anonymous, 2014).
In the North American context, “… research universities will have three classes of
professors, like the airlines. A small first-class cabin of researchers, a business-class section
of academics who will teach and do some research, and a large economy cabin of poorly
paid teachers (Altbach & Finkelstein, 2014, par. 16)
And then there is the fact that professorships as tenured or full-time faculty are
becoming increasingly disposable features of neoliberal higher education (Giroux, 2014b) as
the number of adjunct faculty and administrative staff members far exceed the
appointment of academics (Giroux, 2014a). Giroux (2014a) quotes Ginsberg who refers to
the rise of the “all administrative university” (par. 1). Higher education is therefore in the
process of becoming unbundled and unmoored (Watters, 2012). In 2012, of the 1.5 million
professors in the US, 1 million are adjunct professors appointed on a contract basis (Scott,
The Language of the Curriculum in the context of the Transformation of the Curriculum
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It is impossible (and disingenuous) to disentangle the language of the curriculum
from structural arrangements resulting from and endorsed by colonialism and apartheid.
We cannot and should not underestimate the role language as vehicle of worldview,
knowledge claims and ways-of-being-in-the-world played and continue to play in curriculum
development. The language of the curriculum provides me not only with the curriculum, but
also coerces me into seeing the world through the eyes of that language and forces me to
participate in using that language as meaning-making-system in positioning my scholarship
and being in the world.
We cannot ignore the immense impoverishment and even destruction of indigenous
languages that resulted when settler communities colonised communities and continents.
An important distinction is made by Tuck & Yang (2012) stating that “[s]ettlers are not
immigrants. Immigrants are beholder to the Indigenous laws and epistemologies of the land
they migrate to. Settlers become the law, supplanting Indigenous laws and epistemologies.
Therefore, settler nations are not immigrant nations” (pp. 6-7; emphasis added). As such
settler laws, settler religions and settler languages were and are used to ensure the future
and prosperity of settlers.
We also cannot and should not ignore the fact that our students and graduates need
to be able to understand and participate in local and international scholarly and societal
discourses which use settler languages. How will we empower our students to participate in
these discourses in settler languages and formulate contesting and counter-narratives and
How do we empower students to not only be competent in settler languages but
also have a critical understanding of the embedded and often hidden assumptions,
epistemologies and ontologies that are part of the DNA of these languages? How do we
empower students to participate in local narratives and discourses in indigenous languages?
How do we encourage indigenous scholars to publish in indigenous languages when our
citation and publishing regimes favour publications in settler languages?
The language of the curriculum is not neutral. The issues surrounding choosing a
language of curricula and teaching are complex and often contradictory. Despite these
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difficulties, we cannot and should not ignore thinking critically about the language of the
In my proposition that we need to see the curriculum as a contested but also a
contesting space in order to understand the complexities of the need for and challenges of
curriculum transformation, I discussed seven dimensions or aspects of curriculum
transformation namely:
Who are the ‘we’?
What is included and excluded?
The role and power of the gatekeepers
The role and mandate of higher education
The scope and impact of technology
The macro and micro/institutional imperatives and impacts on curriculum
The language of the curriculum
Seeing the potential for but also the challenges facing curriculum transformation,
there is a danger that the dynamics and multidimensional nature of the curriculum as
contested and contesting space overwhelms and paralyses faculty, curriculum
developers and academic management in higher education institutions.
The four discursive spaces for enunciation proposed by de Oliveira Andreotti et al
(2015), provides a valuable lens into the different possibilities to respond to the
curriculum as contested space but also in formulating curricula as contesting spaces.
Four Discursive Spaces of Enunciations for Dealing with the Curriculum as Contested and
Contesting Space
de Oliveira Andreotti et al (2015) set out to map responses to decolonisation as
anything but tidy, very fluid and dynamic, embedded in many contradictions and
contestations. The reason for this is due to the “violences of colonisation affect nearly every
dimension of being, but also because colonisation has multiple meanings, and the desires
and investments that animate it are diverse, contested, and at times, at odds with one
another” (p. 22). Faced with the messiness of colonisation but also faced in formulating
appropriate and effective responses “there is an understandable impulse to suppress these
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contradictions and conflicts in order to collapse decolonisation into coherent, normative
formulas with seeming unambiguous agendas” (p. 22).
This reminds me of Ta-Nehisi Coates (2015) who said that in his search for answers
he “did not find a coherent tradition marching lockstep but instead factions, and factions
within factions” (p. 47). He was left with “a brawl of ancestors, a herd of dissenters,
sometimes marching together but just as often marching away from each other” (p. 48).
Mapping the different discourses in curriculum and pedagogical responses to
colonialization, de Oliveira Andreotti et al (2015) moot three different spaces of enunciation
namely the soft-reform space, the radical-reform space and the beyond-reform space (see
Figure 2).
Figure 2: Four spaces of enunciation (adapted from de Oliveira Andreotti et al, 2015)
As can be seen fr