The following cross-cutting research themes are being funded in the faculty:


Border Studies is an interdisciplinary field that critically examines border and identity understandings found in political and everyday discourses. The border can be conceptualised as a contradictory construction constituting a mix of continuity and discreteness. Discreteness suggests that borders are real (physical), whereas the continuity of borders negates the objective identification of borders. Thus, borders may be seen as zones of change, conflict or collaboration; of lawlessness, ungovernability or ambiguity.

Possible themes could include the following:

  • Changing nature and meaning of geographic/state borders in a context of human mobility and transboundary issues (related to globalisation, governance, natural resources, security, regional integration/free trade, shifting power of the state, the AU Agenda 2063).
  • Pan-Africanism/s.
  • Epistemic/disciplinary borders and their symbolic representations:
    • How human society is ordered and compartmentalised as a result, e.g. borders and othering through the xenophobic reproduction of negative cultural stereotypes; how we understand the ‘borders’ that mark distinctions of privilege, exclusion, belonging and identity;
    • Academic disciplines – how they are constituted; how they align or collide with each other; how they have been challenged by decolonial critiques;
    • How we resist ‘bordering’ (decolonial perspectives, borderlands, licit and illicit responses); and
    • How we remember (e.g. state narratives and symbols, geopolitics of memory).
    • Borderlands as lived, everyday spaces of cross-border cooperation, trade, cultural engagement, etc., but also mirroring larger processes of social and identity transformation.
    • Bordering practices during COVID-19: old wine in new bottles?


Memory Studies is an interdisciplinary field that explores the interplay between history and heritage and focuses on the remembrance, memorialisation and forgetting of events (often linked to violence, conflict, or trauma). The field of Memory Studies is founded on key concepts such as collective memory, memorial culture, memorialisation, and space vs. place as sites of memory. The current memorial turn has shifted the memorial landscape from commemorating the honourable death of soldiers on the battlefield to memorialising victims of atrocity, notably victims of genocide.

Possible themes could include the following:

  • Memory, justice, peacebuilding/reconciliation in post-conflict societies: Aftermath and competing/co-existing forms of justice (legal, restorative, distributive, transitional, economic, gender, racial, as well as related to international crimes); multidirectional rather than competitive articulations of memory, e.g. new alliances between previously divided groups on the basis of mutual trauma; investigating the conflict potential of insufficiently processed historical traumas and new trauma.
  • The politics (and translation) of the memorialisation of struggle: Power, space, and time:
    • Tensions between individual/informal and collective/formal constructions of trauma/memory;
    • Spatial politics of memory, e.g. how contested border regions with abundant monuments, museums, and historical sites become sacred spaces of national or ethnic memory;
    • Practices of monuments, naming heritage, and ‘popular history’; and
    • Temporalities and the construction of futures connected or disconnected from the past/present (including denialism, forgetting, and historical revisionism).
  • The mediation of intergenerational trauma and traumatic recall through multiple media (narratives, arts-based memory, mourning/ritual in visual media, etc.).

Medical Humanities

The field of Medical Humanities applies humanistic disciplines to the matter of medicine, advocating for putting humanity back at the centre. This means moving thinking and practice away from a clinically detached (biomedical) approach to ill health (where disease is seen as isolated from the complexity of human existence) towards a people-centred, preventative, holistic framework for health care and management.

Possible themes could include the following:

  • Medical Humanities in African or global South contexts (drawing from many traditions and forms of knowledge, including emphasis on community, or traditional forms of healing (IKS), or poverty and social justice, producing knowledge from below).
  • Medical Humanities in action: (Empirical) case studies of its interdisciplinary resources (e.g. the humanities [philosophy, ethics, history, comparative literature, and religion]; social science [psychology, (medical) sociology, (medical) anthropology, cultural studies, health geography]; and the arts [literature, theatre, film, music, and visual arts]).

For example:

  • Case studies of how (visual) arts and culture in health-related practices and decision-making promote appreciation of the human body, and assist medical practitioners’ decision-making in viewing issues from more than one perspective;
  • Case studies of bioethical and identity considerations in the practice of body enhancements; and
  • Case studies of the interface between literature and medicine (e.g. patient narratives used not only as teaching tools, but also as a means to undo stereotypes and build empathetic relations between medical practitioners and patients).
  • Working with COVID-19-induced complexity, crises, and contradiction: Medical Humanities revisited:
    • Contending with multiple inequalities in global health: how do markers of difference – including, but not limited to gender, sexuality, race, immigrant status, nationality, co-morbidities, and informal, essential or other sector employment – affect the different ways in which people have been experiencing the COVID-19 crisis;
    • Health-system responses in Africa and the global South to the gendered and racialised implications of this crisis;
    • Ethics-of-care issues revisited during pandemics;
    • Exploring the role of affects and emotions in dealing with the unequal distribution of life and death during the pandemic;
    • Rethinking the ethics of human-animal/non-human relations, as well as highlighting the urgency of non-human health through a COVID-19 lens; a focus on the harm historically done by the categories of the human and related axes of dehumanisation (the human, the less than human, the inhuman, nonhuman life, the geologically nonhuman, etc.); and
    • Resilience as cross-cutting tool: ‘Adaptation 101’ for pandemics.

Digital Humanities

Digital Humanities explores the intersection between digital technologies and the disciplines of the Humanities, interrogating what it means to be human in a world where the physical, the digital, the biological, and the human all co-exist. The broad focus related to this funding call is concerned with how ambiguity and contradiction are interpreted and understood in an increasingly digital-mediated world. Paradoxically, technological changes create opportunities for better lives and equality, while simultaneously exacerbating existing exclusions, inequalities, and precarity.

Possible themes could include the following:

  • Theoretical and empirical perspectives on the digital concept within social science and humanities disciplines.
  • The normative aspects of becoming digitally literate and the implications of the digital for democratic politics and the public sphere (from opportunities to unintended consequences – both practical and epistemic; problems and opportunities of the digital for the post-colony/global South).
  • Gender, race, and artificial intelligence: Towards digital intersectionality (or not).
  • Soft but significant: Humanities/Social Science skills for a technological world (e.g. cognitive flexibility, ability to grapple with ambiguity and change, negotiation, critical thinking, empathetic world view, curiosity, persistence, collaboration, communication).
  • The rise of digital archives and their implications for research.
  • Human creativity and technology innovation: Where machine learning, artificial intelligence, robotics, biotechnology, and humans meet.
  • How increasing digitisation impacts human constructs of time, space, and memorialisation.


T: +27 51 401 2240 or

Marizanne Cloete: +27 51 401 2592

Neliswa Emeni-Tientcheu: +27 51 401 2536
Juanita Hlongwane: +27 51 401 3269

Humanities photo next to contact block

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