Knowledge in the blood?

Knowledge in the blood?

Want to know the contemporary forms that whiteness is taking now and particularly among the generation often referred to as ‘born free‘? Jonathan Jansen is a former dean of education at the University of Pretoria and a former vice chancellor of the University of the Free State, and a distinguished commentator and researcher of educational matters. Among a number of other pertinent books published since he returned to academic life is Knowledge in the Blood, which uses his experience of working at the University of Pretoria to investigate and map the contours of whiteness among  student and staff populations. It is extremely interesting and well produced, also depressing. Secondhand mythologies still close the minds of university level populations, violence in addition to that endemic in South Africa generally hovers, good will barely exists, and certainly not trust. From my own experience of being based on an honorary basis in the sociology department there, I can confirm from a few years ago that there is a kind of ethnic segregation that students observe, so that proximity only rarely gives greater knowledge of other groups. All of this is well documented in relation to his own experience, also in relation to the research literature.

What is most depressing is that Jansen relates this to dominating social structures and ways of transmitting supposed truths that are incredibly difficult to escape from. This knowledge, he proposes, is ‘in the blood’. Really? The closed character of Afrikaner ethnic groups and networks, the only minimally less closed character of English-speaking groups, are certainly not hardwired.  They are learned, there are routines and rituals to ensure that they are passed on, there are sanctions against those who reject them. These things are socially produced, politically produced, as he shows in detail.

What are the brighter points, the things that give the possibility of change? The context is the current eruption of protests and violence on the campus of the University of Cape Town, and closure as a result involving moving teaching activities et cetera online. Watch this space next week.

Last updated: 16 February 2023