Challenges for South African anthropology in the 3rd Millennium

Palmer, R.C.G. (2009) Challenges for South African anthropology in the 3rd Millennium. In: Inaugural lecture , 7th October 2009, Rhodes University, Grahamstown, South Africa. (Unpublished)

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Towards the end of one’s career, there’s a powerful inclination to look backwards instead of forwards. You become more interested in histories, biographies and obituaries; you reflect on your own life and career. It’s not inevitable, and it can be resisted. Marshall McLuhan was well into his 50s – an obscure Canadian Eng Lit academic – when he had his vision of the nature and future of the media and anticipated a ‘global village’ that the Internet has turned into a reality since his death in 1980 (McLuhan and Powers 1989) – but more on that in due course. Cui Bono? At first I gave into the tendency to look back. Initially, for this lecture, I thought to analyse my own career in South Africa in terms of who benefited most from it: South African anthropology and my students … or me. I would call the lecture ‘Cui Bono?’ But then I realised, with Latin tags on the way out, younger colleagues and students in the audience might think I was referring to a traditional Australian greeting (Coo-ee) and an Irish philanthropist pop singer (Bono). The title would be totally mystifying to many until I explained that it meant ‘to whom the good’ – in other words, who benefits? But there were other objections to this project besides the title. Even the most postmodern of reflexive anthropologists would balk at making such a self-assessment – it was not for me to judge. Anyway, I already knew the answer: My career in South Africa has not been impeded by political harassments, imprisonment or conscription. I did make some small negligible contributions to the ‘struggle’ through writing or drawing, and I did some community service, on campus or off in the same way. At a critical stage I assisted with the process that eventually produced a national staff association, now called NTESU. The only price I have paid for these distractions from serious publishing at a critical stage of my career was deservedly slow promotion. I continue to contribute to the community mainly through membership of the older of Grahamstown’s two very active Rotary clubs. It’s all I have time for, but nothing to boast about. In sum, I’ve enjoyed what my long-term colleague and Grahamstown’s Citizen of the Year (another Rotary initiative) Michael Whisson likes to call ‘sheltered employment’ – his typically ironic way of reminding us of how privileged we academics are, doing what we enjoy, in pleasant surroundings, among intelligent colleagues and the cream of our youth, with plenty of flexi-time and opportunities for subsidized travel. And now I have benefited again by being promoted to full professor without sufficiently earning my keep through subsidies on academic outputs. Whatever I might have given back through teaching and administration the net is in my favour, and I am grateful beyond words.

Item Type:Conference or Workshop Item (Lecture)
Uncontrolled Keywords:anthropology; Marshall McLuhan; Information and Communications Technologies for Development; ICT4D; cell phones; SiyaKhula Living Lab; indigenous anthropologists; South African Anthropology
Subjects:H Social Sciences > HN Social history and conditions. Social problems. Social reform
H Social Sciences > H Social Sciences (General)
G Geography. Anthropology. Recreation > GN Anthropology
Divisions:Faculty > Faculty of Humanities > Anthropology
ID Code:1595
Deposited On:15 Feb 2010 06:50
Last Modified:06 Jan 2012 16:20
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