Subalternity Speaking

Posted by Vicki Scholtz | 13 Aug, 2010

I recently presented a paper at HECU5. It was a truly strange experience, for a number of reasons. I was employed at the time at the hosting institution - Lancaster University - as I had been employed at the time of HECU4 by the hosting institution - UCT. However, back then, conference presentation was not deemed fit for the likes of that which I was then - the silenced subalterns, whose muteness formed the topic of my HECU5 presentation. 

Subalterns cannot speak, Spivak argues, because the hegemonic discourse renders them mute. In order to find a voice, they need to violate their subalternity. Spivak argues that the subaltern cannot speak; my paper - a meta-reflection based on the research I'd conducted for my M.Ed thesis - argued that, even when they acquire this foreign, dominant discourse, they still may not speak. Their subaltern accents give them away, and their voices cannot be heard. Sealed

Revisiting data collected at UCT from (former) colleagues, I found myself presenting on my new "home ground" to former colleagues from my former "home ground" about issues that were now more theirs than mine, re/presenting silenced voices  (many long since gone) in my own (since gone) voice, silenced from those same corridors that once silenced theirs. Surrounded by familiar foreigners, I was at once familiar and foreign, addressing issues both foreign and familiar. 

As a disciplinary bergie,  I used to see my role as some kind of discursive broker, a boundary spanner, translating between paradigms and practices and consciousnesses in a landscape where additional dimensions could not be comprehended, far less tolerated. Others saw me, perhaps,  as a different kind of spanner - the one that jams up the works... Wink


SpeakZA - Bloggers for a free press

Posted by Vicki Scholtz | 24 Mar, 2010

Last week, shocking revelations concerning the activities of ANC Youth League Spokesperson Nyiko Floyd Shivambu came to the fore. According to a letter published in various news outlets, a complaint was laid by 19 political journalists with the secretary-general of the ANC, against Shivambu. This complaint letter detailed attempts by Shivambu to leak a dossier to certain journalists, purporting to expose the money-laundering practices of Dumisane Lubisi, a journalist at City Press. The letter also detailed the intimidation that followed when these journalists refused to publish these revelations.

We condemn in the strongest possible terms the reprisals against journalists by Shivambu. His actions constitute a blatant attack on media freedom and a grave infringement on constitutional rights. It is a disturbing step towards dictatorial rule in South Africa.

We call on the ANC and the ANC Youth League to distance themselves from the actions of Shivambu. The media have, time and again, been a vital democratic safeguard by exposing the actions of individuals who have abused their positions of power for personal and political gain.

The press have played a vital role in the liberation struggle, operating under difficult and often dangerous conditions to document some of the most crucial moments in the struggle against apartheid. It is therefore distressing to note that certain people within the ruling party are willing to maliciously target journalists by invading their privacy and threatening their colleagues in a bid to silence them in their legitimate work.

We also note the breathtaking hubris displayed by Shivambu and ANC Youth League President Julius Malema in their response to the letter of complaint. Shivambu and Malema clearly have no respect for the media and the rights afforded to the media by the Constitution of South Africa. Such a response serves only to reinforce the position that the motive for leaking the so-called dossier was not a legitimate concern, but an insolent effort to intimidate and bully a journalist who had exposed embarrassing information about the youth league president.

We urge the ANC as a whole to reaffirm its commitment to media freedom and other constitutional rights we enjoy as a country.

Even Academics can be Bullied

Posted by Vicki Scholtz | 17 Mar, 2010

Workplace bullying is something many of us have lived through, but a convenient myth allows people to assume that academics are colleagial towards one another, except when it comes to finding parking space in University Avenue or the last chocolate croissant at Kwencha.

But even academics can be subject to bullying - as this account illustrates.  While the "victim" is clearly not blameless, as her attitude demonstrates, the increasing powerlessness she feels as the situation worsens is familiar to anyone who experienced harassment in the workplace. 

Policies are usually unambivalent on such matters, but facts seldom are. How behaviour is intended and how it is received can differ substantively, and when comments are made - and heard - context is critical. Power dynamics - inherent, background or internalised - matter. Often, it is simply easier to leave a toxic situation than to invoke justice.

With the academics having finally accepted their status as employees of the University and not colleagues, even they are now unionised and covered by the protection of the Act. If you feel you are being bullied in the workplace, speak to your union. 

Clone Wars

Posted by Vicki Scholtz | 9 Mar, 2010

There is something disturbingly familiar about David Cameron, the Tory leader widely tipped to win the forthcoming UK elections. It's not just that he's virtually indistinguishable from Nick Clegg, the leader of the Liberal Democrats widely tipped to face a life of obscurity before and after the election - so that any coverage of "the three main parties" sears a Cameronesque image onto the brain in stereo. It's this nasty lurking feeling that I've lived through this before.

Much was made in last night's "Cameron Uncovered" of his being modelled on Tony Blair, only with an equine wife instead of a shrew, but it was another Tony he reminded me of. Is there anybody out there who still remembers Tony Leon?

Like Cameron (an old Etonian), Leon was privately schooled (at Kearsney College), and both went on to local eilte universities (Cameron to Oxford, Leon to Wits). Both built political careers on their "fresh, youthful" demeanour, and both have flirted very briefly with new media to reinforce an image of coolth (Webcameron in Cameron's case, and a podcast in Leon's). Politically their positioning has been identical - centre-right, though trying to emphasise the "centre" and smuggle the "right" aspect in clothed in affability. Both achieved notoriety as leaders of the opposition, building their political profiles through throwing stones at government policy rather than through having any solid, viable policies of their own. And both are most famous for airbrushed election posters - Cameron and Leon both attempting to laugh it off when confronted on it. 

It's even possible that they met - they shared an opposition to sanctions against apartheid South Africa,  both representing "business-and-wealth"-favouring parties, and Cameron accepted an invitation to apartheid SA under the Botha regime which was cosying up to foreign delegates, though they would not have had the opportunity to compare notes on dealing with Iron Ladies, as Leon's successor, modelled on Cameron's antecedent, had not yet risen to notoriety back then. 

Does this make Cameron a chihuahua too?


How Much is Too Much?

Posted by Vicki Scholtz | 7 Mar, 2010

One of my research interests is how our behaviour gets nudged along in certain ways by technology - and the wonderful world of social networking is replete with opportunities. Some of you may have heard about the recent BBC series on the "Virtual Revolution" - if you can find a UK-based IP proxy, take a look, as the website has some wonderful interviews and other material. The almost-computer generated host (Dr Aleks, whose PhD was about 5 minutes old when they did the credits) feeds the usual paranoia about "digital footprints" that, apocryphally, the young and drunken leave behind to trash any future prospects they may have of landing a grown-up job in anything except advertising, but aside from that it does surface the debate around "the cost of free" and many of the issues that are obvious to those of us who use these media, but may perhaps not be to those who tut-tut about them from behind their white-knuckled grip on the Daily Express / Cape Argus / <insert reactionary read of your choice here>.

Along with my explorations about digital identity, one of the topics I've devoted a few thousand words to is the issue of private vs public in the digital realm. With all the echoes of the 70s assertions that the personal was political and the political was personal, the private has become public as the public assails the private. And the canon of TMI - "Too Much Information" - resounds. 

Despite the increased level of sophistication introduced into Facebook's privacy settings, it is still all too easy to have one's sensibilities assailed by a deluge of information concerning one's "friends" - who may be anything from friends to acquaintances to total randoms - because they either don't know how to stop broadcasting their every neural event, can't be arsed to, or have fallen prey to one of those noisy apps like "Farmville" which are designed to shrink your social circle to the emotionally onanistic - leaving one prey to the temptation to click the "hide" button on their newsfeed. 

While hiding the noise from some long-dead 70s group's fan page is a no-brainer, deciding to pull the plug on the newsfeed of a real, live friend is an act laden with a little more symbolic weight. Is it the same as, say, tuning out their off-key singing in the shower, or the mutterings they make to no one in particular while they're cooking in the kitchen? Or is it more analogous to blocking their emails, ignoring their phone calls and returning their letters - unopened - to sender? Admittedly, "friends" who send groupmails photocopied into cards at christmas time probably don't deserve the descriptor, and similarly "friends" who broadcast their Mafia Wars status continually through the day deserve to have their real status update ("been dumped by LTL - am about to slit my wrists - goodbye cruel world") ignored inamongst the tsunami of appspam... but then, is there any point in retaining their nominal "friendship" other than appearing just marginally better networked than Bob in Accounts who has three fewer "friends" than you do?




Posted by Vicki Scholtz | 4 Nov, 2009

Workers of the World, Unite! You have nothing to lose but your language barriers!

Certainly this is what I felt yesterday, passing the Biblioteca Nacional on the Alameda, in central Santiago, on my way back from Serro Santa Lucia. There appears to be some labour dispute underway, with hand-written posters plastered on the [shut] doors and walls outside of the Library. Despite my impoverished Spanish, it was clear to me that they were calling for a fair wage and decent working conditions.

Having been in Chile for all of five days, I was far from up to speed on social and political issues, though I’d been told by disappointed locals that the coming election is likely to see the rightwing come to power – this despite the current (centre-left) President still being wildly popular at the end of her term – unheard of, I was told, in Chilean politics where the honeymoon period is particularly brief. The posters appeal to the President to recognise their authors’ contribution, and to respond with fairness.

This reminded me of the struggles of the UCT Employees’ Union back in my days at the Knowledge Factory on the Hill, where the struggles were as much for symbolic issues – respect, recognition, a respite from the incessant derision so pervasive in the dominant discourse – as for the material matters of a fair wage and acceptable working conditions. It might seem uncomfortably post-modern to those of a more structuralist disposition, but ultimately identity issues do matter. Throwing more money at an employee while still treating them without respect will not address their grievances, it will merely make them feel like a more expensive sex worker.

Acting White

Posted by Vicki Scholtz | 30 Sep, 2009

Exile in England has led to my having to revisit that comfortable and easy definition of myself as "English". In a South African context, being "English" means speaking English as a home language, and is often short-hand for a package of assumptions that go along with that - relative liberalism (politically and socially); a slightly cynical take on nationalism; a distanced view of "culture", in the sense of not readily identifying, or identifying with, any particular markers of culture, such as those more readily associated with other language groups... and so on.

In the UK, of course, "being English" means something completely different - it's a statement of nationalism, and even a rallying cry of a slightly reactionary, defensive encircling to distinguish those thus defined as not Scottish, not Irish, or - god forbid - not Welsh! By this definition, I'm clearly not English - it's a pure historical accident that any of my forebears came to speak English, as they were variously German, Dutch, and... Welsh. So, instead, I have become almost by default that definition that was denied me back home - South African.

Within SA, it's considered presumptious, or naive at best, to describe oneself as "South African", without at least prefacing it with some other descriptor, usually colour or language group. It's easy enough to understand why - the experiences of a typical white kid growing up in, say, the 1970s were very different from those typically experienced by a black kid, and so any kind of assumption of sameness is open to challenge. 

Which reminded me of a paper I was notified about, written by a former DVC at UCT, about some research conducted at UCT among white staff, who were asked at what point they became aware of being white. Aside from the imports, the respondents all cited some incident of casual racism that drew their attention to this between the ages of around 5 and 10. And, as with the "English" rug being pulled from under me feet, I started to wonder if I had the "right" to claim any shared identity with these people, whose experiences, or subsequent perseptions of those experiences, were so different to mine.

I was most certainly subject to the same structural advantages as they were - I attended schools reserved for white kids, which - even if the education was really bad, which it was in two of the three schools I attended - at least had glass in the windows, OHPs in the classrooms and grass on the playing field. And teachers who were nominally qualified - even if science lessons were spent organising the girls' tennis team rather than exploring the electromagnetic properties of light. 

But I did not grow up thinking I was white. In fact, I grew up harbouring a dark - and fallacious, as it turned out - secret that I wasn't, really, and that sooner or later someone was coming to get me, the way they came for Sandra Laing. I didn't really know what "white" was, or how to recognise it in myself or others - it was something that was assumed, rather than conveyed... and I must have slept through those lessons where the cues were passed on wordlessly.

On my first day in primary school, one of my brand new classmates didn't want to sit next to me because I was "coloured", and shouldn't be at that school anyway. The teacher hushed her, but moved her, and on returning home I later asked my mother if I was coloured. She told me not to be silly - that I wouldn't be at that school if I was. Even my 5 year old consciousness could grasp the circularity of that reasoning, so I was convinced that I was, but that people were pretending to ignore it for reasons of their own.

Indeed, my own skin was no paler than that of the delivery men who brought the fridge - though their headwear signalled to me a religious distinction that I would now confirm as Muslim, nor my hair much different in texture from that of the flower seller's child whose mother also forced her to wear it in long, curling locks. It was all terribly opaque to me, hidden and forbidden - until, after a long and scenic journey, I arrived at UCT.

Yes. The first time I became aware of being white was when I started working on Upper Campus at UCT. Suddenly, dramatically and inescapably, I was white.

It was there in every glance from every colleague, assumed comfortably and processed without a moment's hesitation. It was there in every conversation, in every passage and parking lot and tea room and office. It was there in the tone of voice, the body language, the space negotiated between us. I was white.

This was, of course, a package deal. Assumptions were made about me that I was dumb to refute - that I'd travelled overseas, that I knew about - and drank - wine, that I knew about - and watched - rugby, that I'd had music lessons and dance lessons as a child, that I'd gone away on holiday and that I'd seen the inside of hotels, that I dined out and knew the social practices involved in "squabbling" over the bill for afternoon coffee. My mother's hard work at ensuring that I said "yes" and not "yis" had clearly paid off - I could pass. 

But where her focus had been class, the reality had proven to be.... race!

Tea and Sympathy

Posted by Vicki Scholtz | 30 Jun, 2009

It's not a comfortable feeling, sympathy for politicians. Especially politicians like Jacqui Smith, who has a history of cringeworthy credits to her name: proposals for 42 day detention without trial; plans for the introduction of ID cards - which might not seem like a big deal in SA, where green bar-coded IDs came as a blessed relief after a history of dompas, but sure is a big deal in the Yew Kay; allegations of MI5 collusion in torture of "terrorism suspects" on foreign soil, to name but a few.

Yet the dominant feeling in the wake of her resignation is not one of relief, but of sympathy. How can one muster sympathy for someone who claimed nearly the maximum "second home allowance" for the constituency home lived in by her husband, whom she employed as a constituency worker - perfectly legal, but uncomfortable on the moral scale - and who railed against the "vogue of police-bashing" following the G20 Summit where, it may be recalled, police literally bashed an innocent passer-by to death? Yet sympathy is what's left once those bursts of outrage pass. Thanks to a receipt carelessly submitted as part of an expenses claim, which confessed that her husband had watched two blue movies, subsequently funded by the taxpayer. 

Once the wave of prurient ecstacy of Torygraph readership had subsided, and sanity seeped slowly back, a national cringe was evident. It was a revelation too far. Duck islands, moat cleaning and huge gardening expenses were fair game; peeping through the curtains into a middle-aged bedroom was, well, just not British. 

And so, because her husband passed quite nights with a bit of visual distraction, we're deprived of the benefit of righteous anger at the horrors of a Labour minister pushing an agenda that would have felt comfortable under the Apartheid SA state, because we want to distance ourselves from the moral outrage of the rightwingers at the viewing of adult videos and can't trust the Rest Of Them to distinguish our outrage from that.

So Jacqui Smith gets a free pass. Though I'm sure she'd prefer the outrage to the sympathetic stares and sniggers. 



Posted by Vicki Scholtz | 3 Sep, 2008

Because Google Chrome is only available thus far on the Windoze platform, I've had to look elsewhere to amuse myself, and thanks to Robin's tweet, found myself stumbling around Mixwit.

Mixwit is not some whizzed up version of Mxit, but rather a totally free site which allows you to create, customise and share your own playlists. It's fully integrated with Vuisboek and oodles of other social media hang-out zones so you can publish and share your playlists as widely or as selectively as you choose. It also places convenient "purchase this MP3" links (to iTunes and to Amazon) on each song you playlist, should someone like the track enough to wish to Do The Right Thing and transact financially instead of merely rip.

It's pretty intuitive to use, though there is a link to a tutorial (also availble in Espanol) and you can generate playlists as fast as your imagination allows. I've managed a mere three - in various stages - thus far, and have yet to get funky with designing my own skinz or anything too daring. Because...  well, there seems to be some bug (it's still in beta) that's not entirely iBook friendly, and so the drag and drop interface to populate the playlist doesn't recognise my touchpad. And, once I connected a mouse, that was fine... for the rest of that playlist. On the next one, it went on strike again. Oh well, I may have to borrow a PC to finish them, if the bug doesn't sort itself soon.

It also allows you to search for other mixes:  by user, by artist, by track title, or by mix title, and allows you to favourite mixes or fan their creators - the social media side of it, which stops it being yet another soapbox for the Warhol generation. 

Because it allows you to playlist anything in MP3 format anywhere on the interweb, the potential educational possibilities are also numerous, but why let serious educational potential undermine a little fun, huh?

Gaudeamus, indeed!

Posted by Vicki Scholtz | 28 Aug, 2008

I was rather bemused to read the consternation on Retroid's blog concerning the singing of Gaudeamus at the recent coronation.What could possibly be more fitting at such an occasion than a song praising the easy virtue of young women and acknowledging the triumvirate of capital, State and local government, whose largesse (or tolerance, at the very least) allows students their pleasant youth? 

Gaudeamus has always signified to me the resilience of an institution against perverted attempts to modernise it - the University has survived in almost identical form since the Middle Ages, despite the onslaughts of war, nationalism, ideology and bureaucracy, and may yet even outlast the current onslaught of neo-liberalism / managerialism / corporatisation. Gaudeamus is the rallying cry of those who still regard Knowledge over numbers, Disciplines over brands, Learning over consuming. Gaudeamus is what distinguishes a University from a slot machine.   

Aside from The Church and the Court, what other institutions allow grown-ups the opportunity to dress up as extras from the latest installment of Batman, pervaded with gravitas rather than comedy (despite the presence of significant numbers of Jokers), in the line of duty? Without the accompanying strains of Gaudeamus, the semesterly transformation of Jammie Hall into the Bat Cave would seem as silly as men in aprons twisting themselves into pretzels to enact funny handshakes, or as sinister as pointy hats and white sheets at full moon.

Vivat Gaudeamus, vivat!


The Long Goodbye VI

Posted by Vicki Scholtz | 29 Jul, 2008

As a counterpoint to what I will miss about UCT when I go, some of the feedback on what others say they will miss about me:

  • organising coffee / hot chocolate for meetings
  • recognising individual strengths and potential on a team, and fostering that
  •  treating them with respect and dignity
  • fighting for "all of us"
  • being nice (yes, can you believe)
  • having a history in one's head
  • paying for his holidays (OK, that was Wayne. Why Bremner didn't just make out my salary cheque direct to him to save the bank charges I don't know. I could have gotten more coffee that way.)

 And now, back to our regularly scheduled programming.

What I will miss about UCT:

  • Some truly amazing students. Some that I've had the pleasure to teach, some I've worked with on committees, some who've worked in our labs and others I've just known around the place. Some linger on as Facebook friends, others as die-hard Facebook pokers and some reappear in the most unexpected places.

 What I will not miss about UCT:

  •  Large echoey passages that amplify noise from outside lecture theatres or computer labs - or from those horrible hand-dryers - to damaging volumes, no matter how you try to block it out. Especially when the noobs arrive. And most especially when they're Commerce students during orientation. 


The Long Goodbye V

Posted by Vicki Scholtz | 28 Jul, 2008

With the last few days slipping into one long tea party, cracks in the universe are starting to appear and some of the deeply hidden weirdness is starting to ooze through.

Like people I've never seen before stopping me to confirm that it's true I'm really, really leaving on Thursday, and telling me how much I've meant to them and how much they'll miss me. And people I've known since pa fell off the bus looking at me oddly when they discover that I'm still here and didn't leave five years ago. 

So, what will I miss about UCT:

  • Some really great people I've had the privilege of working alongside. I've been blessed with an awesome team, with a succession of wonderful line managers (direct line managers, that is) in the main, and some truly inspiring colleagues and comrades more broadly who've shaped this experience in ways they'll never fully realise, and would modestly deny anyway.

 What I will not miss about UCT:

  •  The celebration, systematisation and promotion of mediocrity in a supposed institution of excellence. The thrall which surrounds people beaten with the stupid stick, and the high regard in which the vacuous, opportunistic and downright dumb are held. If someone lacks social skills, writes impenetrably and can't steer a train of thought down a straight track it isn't necessarily a sign of genius: sometimes it's the converse, despite whatever letters someone may have after their name or whatever rank or position they hold.



The more things change....

Posted by Vicki Scholtz | 25 Jul, 2008

...the more they return to what they once were.

Who said it was only the Balinese that experienced time as cyclic?



Yes, that really is Glen back with Winnie, just like in the old days... 

Signs of the Times

Posted by Vicki Scholtz | 3 Jul, 2008

And so, we were informed on the departure of Prof. Bremner Building*, we'd reached the end of an ,

and things at were set to change quite dramatically.

Quite tellingly, then, the discovery on the website of  its more blatantly commercial namesake, that we should encounter this:  

An explanation of why he chose to retain the Transformation portfolio himself, perhaps?  










All this - AND we get an office on the mountain!

Posted by Vicki Scholtz | 30 Jun, 2008

Having just celebrated my penultimate payday, I thought it apposite to dwell a while on recent reports in the UK that Higher Education staff have the best pay deal in the public sector.

The basis for this assertion - recent pay increases of around 30%, as well as working conditions which include flexible work hours - look at first glance not too dissimilar from those here, if one makes the same mistake the reports do and blurs "academic" and "non-academic" staff as it suits, to present a picture of the best of both categories with none of the drawbacks of either.

What does hold true in both cases (there and here) is that the rapid pay rise was off a low base - even 100% of next to nothing is still next to nothing - and that in absolute terms, salaries are in many cases still not attractive enough to draw teh brightest and the best who succumb to the lure of private sector offerings instead. Which may be as well - someone who is merely doing the job for the money is perhaps lacking in some of the crucial requirements of the job: the academic enterprise still relies largely on notions of collegiality, the quid pro quo involved in externalling here or referreeing there not for the honorarium (if there is one) or even necessarily for the networking, but out of some sense of a greater good that is served through such acts of service to one's discipline.

Working hours for those who have fixed ones are between 35 and 37, compared with our notional 37.5 - though, like ours, the hours required (ie, remunerated) are not necessarily the hours worked, as mentioned in the Grauniad's report.

The most striking difference, however, is in the leave entitlement. There, academics receive a median 35 days per annum, compared to 25 in the general populace. Here January is academic leave month - 22 working days in 2008 - while non-academics get 26 days leave per year.

With salary negotiations looming, one wonders how - if at all - things are likely to change...

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