A Hopeful Book: Education, Democracy and Citizenship Revisited, by Yusef Waghied

One of the functions I would like this blog to fulfill, is that of a resource page on the kind of teaching in higher education that will engender critical forms of hope in our students. The “resources” link above will feature books, courses and other interesting events. If you have any you would like to share, please let me know.


The first book I would like to feature, is Education, Democracy and Citizenship Revisited: Pedagogical encounters, (2010, Sun Press). It is written by Yusef Waghid, Dean of Education at Stellenbosch University. This relatively inexpensive (R120) and slim volume (155 pp) is a useful resource for academics and those wishing to study issues pertaining to teaching and transformation in South Africa. It is a reworking of pieces Yusef has published during his academic career. The chapters combine examples from current history, Yusef’s educational biography and his extensive and thoughtful – “deliberative”, to use one of his words – excursions into philosophical tracts on social justice. He draws on the work of writers such as Nussbaum, Benhabib, Arendt, Gutmann and Callan. Since he writes quite simply, this is an easy guide for those scholars who have not yet dipped into these writers’ works. The book contains some rather unusual ideas, such as the value of “belligerence” in dialogue, which causes stress, but ultimately, leads to “moments of ethical conciliation, when the truth and error in rival positions have been made clear and a fitting synthesis of factional viewpoints is achieved” (p. 26). Belligerence, accompanied by compassion, is discussed in detail in the first chapter, and referred to again in chapter eight, where the distinction is drawn between “safe expression” that avoids belligerence, and “responsible expression”. The latter involves taking risks in dialogue, and does not avoid distress and discomfort.  Belligerent dialogue remains responsible, respectful and just. This is an interesting solution to a tension often referred to in discussions about facilitating dialogue in diverse contexts: how to facilitate real exchanges amongst students without, on the one hand, incurring unjust behavior, and on the other, without skating over difference and tension. There are other very finely drawn and nuanced reflections on life in South Africa and on tensions regarding working in educational contexts of difference, which you should read.

I am of the opinion that South Africans have a lot to teach the rest of the world and each other, and it is about time we started publishing more locally, and reading each other’s work – despite the impact this might have on research rating scores and incentivized funding schemes in our universities. This book is a useful contribution to the locally grounded literature on teaching for citizenship and democracy.

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12 Responses to A Hopeful Book: Education, Democracy and Citizenship Revisited, by Yusef Waghied

  1. Elmarie Costandius says:

    What is a safe space to participate in conversations regarding citizenship?

    A safe space in my projects means that what students say in the conversations will not be held against them; I will not discuss their perceptions with other lecturers, and it will not affect their marks. If these guarantees are not in place students are not free to speak their minds. The aim is to create a space where students do not feel that they have to say the ‘right’ thing to please the facilitator. The next very important step is then to address those issues that we have put on the table and unpack it, to try and understand where these feelings and reactions come from, and to direct the conversation so that there is a space for perceptions to change. I agree with Prof Yusef Waghid when he refers to “safe speech” and that keeping the conversations themselves safe will not bring us far. To me there is a difference between a safe space and safe speech. Safe space does not necessarily mean safe speech.

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