Featured partner: University of Witwatersrand

Posted on April 9, 2019

The Faculty of Humanities is a leading centre of study and research in the Arts, Social Sciences, Human and Community Development, Education and Literature, Language and Media in South Africa and Africa. The Faculty’s extensive range of programmes at undergraduate and postgraduate level offer students the opportunity to follow careers in specific professions or to pursue more theoretical and research oriented studies. The development of critical analytical skills open up a range of careers in academia and research institutes, the public and private sectors and non-governmental organisations alike. Creative curricula respond to students’ learning needs and are reflective of diverse values, learning histories and strengths which enable students to engage with cutting edge developments in the disciplines of the Humanities.

The education offered at the Wits Faculty of Humanities provides graduates with the skills and capacity for non-linear and divergent thinking that recognises that most of the problems currently facing South Africa and the world require not one, but a range of inter-connecting solutions and approaches which students are able to formulate and execute. The five schools include:  

Wits School of Arts.
The School combines critical inquiry with artistic practice in ways that engage transformatively with our contemporary urban, African and global contexts.

Wits School of Education.
The School offers education degrees in diverse subject areas for both initial teacher education and in-service teaching, the latter at postgraduate level.  

School of Human and Community Development.
Majors include audiology, speech and language pathology, psychology and social work, with the School also working in related medical, educational, linguistic and psychological areas to strengthen students’ background knowledge.  

School of Literature, Language and Media.
The school contributes to the vibrant literary and intellectual life of the University and offers students the opportunity to explore the implications of social and cultural diversity through the study of language, literature, writing, media studies, ICT policy and regulation and interdisciplinary digital knowledge.  

School of Social Sciences.
The school offers the disciplines of History, International Relations, Philosophy, Political Studies, Social Anthropology and Sociology. It is committed to fostering understanding of all aspects of society in order to help improve livelihoods. While focusing on research and teaching, SOSS is cognisant of its critical role in promoting public debates that contribute to sound public policy formulation and implementation.

Humanities Graduate Centre
The mission of the Humanities Graduate Centre (HGC) is to provide an intellectually enriching, professionally enabling and socially- supportive environment for postgraduate students in the Wits Faculty of Humanities. The HGC is an innovative space at the University which provides a stimulating interdisciplinary environment for postgraduates, housing as it does doctoral fellows and PhD students from all the Schools, Departments, Centres and Institutes. The Centre also has space for Masters and Honours students and acts as a networking hub between junior postgraduates and senior PhDs. Apart from its study, discussion and research space, the HGC provides students with an interesting programme of events which include academic workshops, the Isizinda Sokubhala (the place of writing) programme, Resident PhD Seminar workshops, Resident Fellows, Guest Lecture Series and mentorship programmes.  

Wits Rankings 2017/2018
#1: Wits is the highest ranking university in South Africa and Africa Academic Ranking of World Universities and the Centre for World University Rankings. #1: of the top two universities in South Africa and Africa Times Higher Education World University Rankings and the Quacquarelli Symonds World Rankings. Research output has increased by 80% over the last five years, and over 85% of all publications are published in accredited international journals. In 2017, Wits announced 16 ground-breaking new discoveries! And at the moment, Wits has a total of 50 active research projects on the African continent. This is why we are seen as a leading research-intensive institution and a gateway to research engagement.

The Research Vision and Mission at the Faculty of Humanities
To produce research of the highest quality, ensuring that the Faculty retains and enhances its reputation as one of the leading centres for research and graduate studies in Africa »»To encourage and enable all academic staff to be research active »»To produce research of a pure or theoretical nature that contributes to the fundamental understanding of the disciplines in the humanities »»To produce research of an applied nature that contributes to the solution to problems in the Southern African region particularly, and the continent more generally »»To produce a culture of intellectual interest and engagement and a community of scholars dedicated to the development of knowledge and the rational appraisal of ideas, and ready to use their intellectual skills and expertise to engage in debate in the public domain »»To help produce the next generation of researchers through the prioritising of graduate studies and through the commitment to developing research capacity amongst young or new members of staff and graduate students. The Faculty is home to globally renowned and emerging scholars working within, between and beyond disciplines in the humanities at the horizon of the knowledge economy. Thirteen academics on its staff are members of the prestigious Academy of Science of South Africa and almost a quarter of its researchers have obtained ratings from the National Research Foundation. Of those rated, six are considered world leaders in their fields. The Faculty’s collective knowledge is published through a steeply increasing number of high-quality books, chapters and journal articles that give shape to a formidable bibliometric footprint. Over the last three years, the Faculty has produced over 1 900 outputs, breaching 500 accredited units for the first time in 2017. The quality and impact of such scholarship is evidenced by the fact that these publications have been cited approximately 65 per cent more than the normalised global average for knowledge in the humanities over the past five years, and their authors are invited to deliver keynote addresses to global gatherings of experts annually. Against this backdrop and in keeping with the vision of a research-intensive university the Faculty will continue to develop and advance globally impactful scholarship on the questions that define and disrupt what it means to be human in the twenty-first century.

Research entities ACMS is an African Research Universities Alliance (ARUA) Centre of Excellence and a leading scholarly institution for research and teaching on human mobility. Established in 1993, ACMS is an independent, interdisciplinary and internationally engaged institution focusing on relationships among human movement politics, poverty, and social transformation. While oriented towards Southern Africa, the Centre conducts collaborative scholarly and policy-oriented work across sub-Saharan Africa. The Centre also has partnerships in Asia, Europe and the Americas. It offers Africa’s only post-graduate degree in forced migration studies and provides training to students and professionals on topics ranging from the sociology of migration, mobility and health, human rights, to research methods.

Centre for Indian Studies in Africa (CISA) was established at Wits University towards the end of 2007. The Centre is the first in Africa to focus on India. CISA promotes teaching, research and public activities concerning the Indian sub-continent, its links to Africa and the Indian Ocean, the Global South and builds on the multi-faceted networks developed with Indian universities, research institutions and public agencies. The Centre tries to chart a new post-colonial history by working against nation-centred thinking on historical processes and promotes thinking about the histories of Africa, Asia and Latin America together through the connections that they have always had through religion, commerce, the movements of labour and capital, and not least the circulation of ideas.

The Centre for Researching Education and Labour REAL is  a research centre in the School of Education at Wits University. The REAL Centre conducts research into areas of theoretical and policy concern focused on the complex relationships between education, knowledge, work, the economy, and society. The REAL Centre is a vibrant part of the Wits School of Education’s Education Leadership, Policy and Skills Division, conducting cutting-edge research, offering teaching programmes which develop the professional capacity of researchers and practitioners, and providing support to policymakers and regulatory institutions. The Children’s Communication Centre (CCC) was started by the Department of Speech Pathology and Audiology at Wits in the early 1970s. The CCC offers specialised programmes for children with speech-language and hearing impairments in small, facilitatory groups. There is an ongoing relationship between the CCC and the School of Human and Community Development. The CCC is a site for student clinical training and research.

The Health Communication Research Unit. Effective and disease-specific communication can play a huge role in the improved health of patients with various diseases and illnesses ranging from  IV/AIDS and strokes to schizophrenia, according to Claire Penn, A-rated Research Professor from the School of Human and Community Development and former Director of the Health Communication Project at Wits University. The aim of the project is to apply methods from social sciences such as linguistics and anthropology to investigate communication practices used in intercultural health interactions. The project, which harnesses the knowledge and expertise of a multidisciplinary team, focuses on both verbal communication and non-verbal behaviours that occur in an interactions between individuals in healthcare contexts the knowledge economy.

The Learning Information Networking Knowledge (LINK) Centre is the leading academic research and training body in the field of electronic communications and ICT (information and  communications technology) policy, regulation and management in Southern Africa. LINK focuses on knowledge production and capacity building for the broad ICT sector, including telecoms and broadcasting (electronic communications), advances in the wider ICT sector, e-government in the public sector, and e-development in society and the economy. It offers certificate and degree educational programmes, applied research and advisory services aimed at maximising the benefits of the information society and the knowledge economy. It prepares research-based policy advice for government and regional bodies, and publishes a Department of Higher Education accredited academic journal, The African Journal of Information and Communication. The Marang Centre for Mathematics and Science Education is a division of the Wits School of Education. Marang Centre was inaugurated as an academic centre in October 2005, following substantial sponsorship from the Standard Bank of South Africa, which continues to be the major sponsor of the centre. The centre occupies part of the Education Campus, formerly the campus of the Johannesburg College of Education in the Parktown section of Johannesburg next to the School of  Medical and Health Sciences.

The Society, Work and Development Institute (SWOP) Institute conducts high-quality research on the world of work. Primarily academic in orientation, the Institute focuses on disseminating research through teaching, publications and conferences, and on conducting significant contract policy research. It maintains communication and interaction with a broad range of actors within the world of work, such as organised labour, business, government and other research organisations. SWOP was recently granted the status of an institute in recognition of the critical role it plays in producing ground-breaking social science research on the world of work, society, the state and the environment.

The Centre for Deaf Studies. Through innovative teaching, research and community engagement, the Wits Centre for Deaf Studies aims to equip, develop and improve the lives of Deaf and hard-of-hearing people across their life-span and foster equal opportunities for all. The Centre offers academic courses at undergraduate and postgraduate level as well as on-line, short and tailor-made courses. The research carried out by the Centre actively contributes to the intellectual development of Deaf Studies and the elevation of Deaf education in South Africa. It aims to influence both policy and practice and encourage multidisciplinary collaboration. The Centre is deeply involved in community outreach programmes such as   the HI HOPES programme, a home-based, family-centred community outreach initiative which, for over 12 years, has empowered Home Interventionists and Deaf Mentors to support more than 2400 families and their deaf and hard-of-hearing infants.

The Emthonjeni Centre (EC), an initiative by the School of Human and Community Development, is aimed at providing a vehicle for donors to support the creation of a multi-disciplinary community service and development centre. In addition to current services the EC also aims to establish collaborative networks with organisation and institutions internationally and on the continent of Africa. In this way the centre hopes to facilitate scholarship and knowledge generation that promotes sustainable development in various communities, especially on the African continent. Through its interdisciplinary research, education and projects, the Wits Centre for Diversity Studies provides a hub for engaging issues of transformation and social justice. In addition to being grounded in social justice imperatives, the research and education of the programme is informed by the notion of Critical Diversity Literacy (Steyn 2015) which “examines those operations of power which implicate social identities to create systems of privilege, advantage, disadvantage and oppression”. Drawing on cutting edge social theory, the Critical Diversity Studies lens opens up challenging research questions which emerge in the interstices of current disciplinary boundaries. These questions have the capacity to shift ‘common sense’ assumptions about the social, enabling fresh and penetrating analyses of current social challenges. While no single research methodology need necessarily flow from Critical Diversity Literacy, it involves the recognition of social construction and the constitutive role of discourse in employing critical social theory. The Centre offers postgraduate degree programmes (Hons, MA, PhD) in Critical Diversity Studies. WiCDS also houses the DST-NRF SARChI Chair in Critical Diversity Studies, held by Prof Melissa Steyn. The International Journal of Critical Diversity Studies is another initiative of Centre.

The Wits Centre for Ethics (WiCE) is a research centre housing a team of moral specialists, based in the philosophy department, but bringing together researchers from different disciplines across the university, which produces research into ethical issues of concern to the Southern African region. The centre’s work includes research, teaching and advocacy, and it organises conferences and talks which are open to all. Whereas other Ethics centres in the country specialise in areas of applied ethics such as Bioethics or Business Ethics, WiCE works in both theoretical questions such as the nature of morality, moral knowledge, and how moral objectivity is possible, as well as on applied ethical questions, such as arms sales, HIV testing regimes, business responsibility to workers, press objectivity, and animal rights. Current research focuses include justice, punishment, responsibility and Ubuntu. 

Wits Institute for Social and Economic Research WISER, established in 2001, is a globally influential interdisciplinary research institute in the humanities and social sciences. The institute draws on a history of advanced interdisciplinary research at Wits that dates back to the late 1960s, but has pursued five main objectives with distinctive energy and enterprise: to foster independent, critical inquiry into the complexities and paradoxes of change in South Africa; to conduct this enquiry by drawing intensively on comparative international research especially from the African continent; to foreground the global theoretical significance of WISER’s research agenda, to combine aesthetic and social scientific  analyses; and to provide an institutional space that strengthens the scholarly dialogue between South African researchers and academics in the rest of the world. There can be few regions anywhere in the world with a more acute need for the kind of incisive, high-calibre social science research carried out by WiSER 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 and  the re-composition of gender relations are as much part of a complex reworking of old social relations as responses to changing external circumstances. In recent years, with generous support from Wits and outside donors, the Institute has grown significantly, shaping global and local audiences with an interest in the pressing political and cultural concerns of the postcolonial era.

Harnessing the Humanities

wits ruksana

Above: Professor Ruksana Osman

The term “fourth industrial revolution” is understood in various ways. Some people are excited about it. Others are cautious. Some assume it means that technology and robots will take over every human activity. And still others imagine that this “revolution” will lead only to joblessness and automation. There are also those who are sceptical and insist it’s no revolution at all. They argue that it’s just an improvement and fusion of various technologies – like artificial intelligence and  3D printing – and acceleration in productivity. In all these instances, the interaction of technology with humans and humans with technology is underestimated. The emphasis on interaction is central to understanding the fourth industrial revolution. And this epoch will, like all times of change, require universities to push the boundaries of teaching and learning.

Universities will need to ensure that students are equipped with approaches to learning that involve agility, adaptability and curiosity. It will be a challenge for us all. The fourth industrial revolution will also raise many questions for universities to consider. What needs to shift in how lecturers teach and how students learn and will be learning? What does the blurring of the lines between the physical, digital and technological mean for social relationships and for student learning? What do these shifts mean for different countries? Is learning in an environment with peers (virtually or in a class) better than learning online? In seeking answers, societies must create the space to have conversations across social, academic, industry and community boundaries. The purpose of these conversations is to determine priority areas that need to be improved by the rapid technological changes we are currently  experiencing as well as thinking about how we redefine the human condition. Universities have a crucial role to play in these conversations.

And a humanities education has a lot to offer when it comes to preparing students for the fourth industrial revolution. A humanities education inculcates the importance of reflecting on the vast array of methodological and societal  issues that arise from any practices. These include  the technological and computational practices that underpin the fourth industrial revolution. Critical thinking, debating and creative problem solving are taught in the humanities.

This kind of critical orientation allows students to explore the complex human-to-human relations and the human to robotic relations that we are already encountering and that will become ever more common. This isn’t to suggest that only the humanities are relevant. Cross-disciplinary communities of researchers and educators matter and will matter now more than ever. This is particularly true in South Africa where the education system hasn’t provided for the breaking down of boundaries between the sciences, let alone between the disciplines in the humanities. Collectively we will need to do more when it comes to drawing on approaches from various disciplines, which will allow for quantitative reasoning, problem solving and systems thinking that are socially relevant. Such partnerships are already happening in small pockets, and are yielding promising results.