Two talks in Cape Town

In Cape Town in mid-July, as a guest of the University of Cape Town, a visit arranged by Dr Robert Morrell.  The upper campus is built on a spectacular site with close views of the mountain in one direction, and across the Cape Flats to distant ranges in the other.  I did workshops and seminars in four departments or centres, and met with academic staff and graduate students individually.
Robert Morrell and myself at UCT

On the evening of 20 July I did my big number, a Vice-Chancellor’s Public Lecture, "Intellectuals in the 21st Century World".  How is that for a pompous title?  (I confess, it was my own.)  This was part of UCT’s public lecture outreach series, advertised in the Cape Town papers etc.

It was in vacation time, but 250 people turned up.  In fact the lecture had to be moved to a bigger venue, how is that for a Key Performance Indicator?  I think I was in pretty good form too (see picture below, and audio/video).  I told the familiar ‘tale of the intellectuals’ as a subversive avant-garde and/or a new class holding social power.  Then complicated this story with data on intellectual labour, and tried to displace the Eurocentric tale with a global one.  This means thinking about the different groups of intellectuals in pre-colonial, colonial and post-colonial contexts in the majority world.  Wound up with some of the dilemmas of intellectual work in the neoliberal university.

Giving the public lecture.  Picture credit:
University of Cape Town.
The Power Point worked perfectly, and the questions were numerous and relevant – always a good sign.  The Deputy V-C who chaired the session, Prof. Thandabantu Nhlapo, presented me with a warm handshake and a heavy book, in every sense of the word – it was about the 'Memory Box' project, stories of people living with HIV.  We moved off for refreshments afterwards, which were quietly gatecrashed by a bunch of students.  I discussed post-colonialism and anti-colonialism with a group of bright, critical, young Black men, a pleasure to talk with. 

Two days later I gave a talk at the University of the Western Cape, out on the Cape Flats in a very different social milieu from sandstone UCT.  The session was organized by Prof. Tammy Shefer, who has been in the thick of South Africa's very impressive social research effort in the field of gender, violence and HIV.

This was the only talk about masculinities I gave on the trip; about 60 people came, including people from NGOs and community activism.  We had a technological meltdown and I had to remember how we used to give lectures in ancient times before Power Point.  The group was good humoured and we got on OK.

The questions here were very much about the practical applications of knowledge about men and masculinities to issues about poverty, violence, drugs, gangs in the informal settlements, etc.

One woman raised the question whether women’s groups should spend energy on men.  My answer was that there were very good reasons why feminists historically focussed on women.  But since gender is relational, and the dire problems of the gender order can’t be solved without men’s participation, engaging with men is a necessity.  There seemed to be general agreement with that.
Back to Top