05 December 2019 | Story Valentino Ndaba | Photo Stephen Collett
Justice read more
Social justice is the promotion of just societies and treatment of individuals and communities based on the belief that we each possess an innate human dignity.

The power of research lies in the possibility to move from theory to practical outcomes that can change society for the better in some way. In essence, scholars have the ability to create the future in collaboration with government and civil society. At a recent international colloquium hosted by the University of the Free State (UFS) South African Research Chairs Initiative (SARChI) programme, researchers deliberated on social justice issues and possible resolutions.

Delegates from institutions across the UK, Zimbabwe, and Sweden presented findings from studies conducted around the world under the theme ‘Making Epistemic Justice: An international colloquium on narrative capabilities and participatory research’. The UFS SARChI Chair in Higher Education and Human Development Research Programme, under the leadership of Professor Melanie Walker hosted the colloquium from 21-22 November in Bloemfontein.

The importance of psychological liberation

In her welcoming address, Prof Walker quoted the late Black Consciousness activist, Steve Biko, who anticipated many of the current debates on epistemic power and exclusions when he wrote that “the most potent weapon in the hands of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed”.

Prof Walker reiterated that epistemic justice matters, as affirmed by Kenyan writer, Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o who in 1981 stated that, “colonialism imposed its control over social production of wealth through military conquest and subsequent political dictatorships. But its most important area of domination was the mental universe of the colonised, the control through culture, how people perceive themselves, and their relationship to the world”.

The relationship between storytelling and social justice

Dr Holly Henderson from the University of Nottingham in the UK was the first speaker to make a presentation, titled ‘Resisting the narrative conclusion in educational research’. According to Henderson, storytelling is an essential part of the long road to social justice.  

Henderson’s keen interest in the complexity of the narrative developed when she started working in further education many years ago. A significant part of her research focuses on the concept of ‘possible self’ which requires the art of storytelling in order to come to life. A study she conducted on university students delved deeper into this concept and found that environment plays a major role in the way individuals perceive the future. 

“The more detailed you imagine something, the more likely you are to achieve it,” said Henderson. However, the correct structures enable the future to be imagined. Hence, curriculum decolonisation, equal access to quality education, and social justice become all the more important in achieving future success among students globally.
The art of activism and advocacy 

The joint work of Dr Faith Mkwananzi from the UFS and Dr Tendayi Marovah from the Midlands State University in Zimbabwe looked at street art, otherwise known as graffiti, as a way to foster epistemic justice and collective capabilities among marginalised youth. 

According to Marovah, storytelling using art gives a voice to the voiceless and assigns dignity to the excluded. “Narrative offers an opportunity in which the unheard and unseen are heard and seen.”

Delegates of the colloquium unanimously agreed that researchers are in the business of providing much-needed direction on how to stop discrimination, challenging unjust government policies and the abuse of power, promoting peace instead of violence, eradicating poverty, opening access to quality education among other social justice issues. Therefore unity in research diversity provides fertile ground for manifesting social justice.

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