25 November 2014
Prix Charles et Monique Morazé 2014 : Re-thinking Knowledge and Social Change

The Charles and Monique Morazé Prize, awarded by the Fondation Maison des Sciences de l’Homme for the second time, was established to distinguish research activities concerning two big themes: education and society on one hand; sciences and society on the other hand.

For year 2014, the laureate is Madam Mala Singh, professor at the Rhodes University, Grahamstown, South Africa.

On the occasion of the Prize ceremony, Professor Mala Singh will give a lecture entitled: " Social Re-thinking Knowledge and Social Changes".

Access to full-text working-paper.

Re-thinking Knowledge and Social Change


The 20th anniversary of formal democracy in South Africa in 2014 has stimulated a great deal of often-quantitative accounting of achievements and shortcomings in creating a better society. The post-apartheid social change agenda upheld an ambitious normative vision for democratic inclusion and social justice but produced an ambivalent yield of benefit and disillusionment. So many more houses built and yet so many people still live in shacks. So many more school leavers entering universities and yet the participation rates in higher education remain low. So many more citizens afforded social welfare benefits and yet large-scale poverty and its ravages remain largely undented. Progress beyond the formalities of constitutional democracy as the chosen form of government, towards the goals of social justice and social cohesion, accountable governance, tolerance for critique and dissent, and towards a more rationally and normatively planned polity remain more difficult to gauge.

The two-decade anniversary has evoked much debate and reflection on the ambitious social change agenda adopted in 1994 and on its implementation modalities and outcomes. In the face of ongoing systemic inability to improve the material conditions of life of the majority of the population as well as weaknesses in institutionalizing a democratic culture, questions have been posed about the need to re-think not only the chosen social policies and their accompanying implementation strategies but in some instances even the underlying legitimating vision and goals. Such reflections are taking place in government, in civic organizations, in the media and in the universities. There has, for instance, been a long-standing debate about the need to transform the universities and the research system in the direction of greater equity and social responsiveness. A recent initiative to re-dedicate collective research effort to address poverty and inequality in response to government’s National Development Plan has highlighted the question of the role of knowledge and modes of involvement of academics and researchers in the social change agenda in South Africa. In the same reflective vein of assessment about the direction and results of change currently evident in many social sectors, it may be useful to analyze how the relationship between knowledge (and its producers and institutions) and society (and its sources of power) has been constructed and with what benefits and challenges.  

In considering the unfolding social change agenda in South Africa and the intellectual engagement that sought to support it, this presentation attempts to track some of the evolving conceptions about knowledge for social change among social researchers, higher education and research institutions, and policymakers. What shifts and swings have there been in the patterns of intellectual engagement with state and non-state actors as addressees of socially useful knowledge and what lessons learned? Assuming that the notion of socially useful knowledge is already a kind of political and moral narrative, how has the tension between political engagement and scientific rigour been articulated and negotiated? And given the legacies of apartheid exclusion, are there significant changes and creative interventions to change the race, class and gender profiles of the producers and shapers of knowledge?

It is hoped that this kind of analysis could serve as a clearing ground for the task of re-imagining the possibilities for and recognizing the limits of producing knowledge for society and revisiting the terms of intellectual engagement in social change in South Africa in an environment made more complex by the demands of the knowledge economy and the reputational economy.

Mala Singh

Professor Extraordinaire in the Centre for Higher Education Research, Teaching and Learning at Rhodes University, Grahamstown, South Africa

Mala Singh is a South African who is currently Professor Extraordinaire at Rhodes University, South Africa. She was formerly Professor of International Higher Education Policy in the Centre for Higher Education Research and Information (CHERI) at the Open University, UK. She was the founding Executive Director of the Higher Education Quality Committee of the Council on Higher Education in South Africa. She has a doctorate in philosophy and was formerly professor and head of the Department of Philosophy at the University of Durban-Westville in South Africa (now merged into the University of KwaZulu-Natal).

She has published in the fields of philosophy and higher education and quality assurance. She is a member of the Academy of Science as well as the Board of the National Research Foundation in South Africa, and has served on UNESCO committees on higher education and research. She is on the editorial boards of Higher Education Policy and the Journal of Higher Education in Africa. She is a member of the Council of the United Nations University in Tokyo, serves on the Hong Kong Council for Accreditation of Academic and Vocational Qualifications and has been a member of the European Register Committee. In 2009 she was a Fulbright Scholar at the New School for Social Research in New York and a Research Fellow at the Steinhardt Institute for Higher Education Policy at New York University.

In 2014 Professor Mala Singh was awarded « The Prize Charles and Monique Morazé », established recently by the Fondation Maison des sciences de l’homme, Paris, and granted in recognition of the innovative work on the issues of Science and society on the one hand, Education and society on the other hand.




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