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Intruders in the sacred grove of science? : a critical analysis of women academics' participation in research in the humanities and social sciences.

Knowledge production or research in South Africa, as elsewhere in the world, does not

occur within 'innocent' spaces devoid of personal, social, political, economic and cultural

contexts. Research in the Humanities and Social Sciences has been largely the domain of

white, male academics operating within positivistic, western, or eurocentric paradigms that

have consequently cast all differing modes of knowledge production as 'other'. Research

has been 'normalised' within particular frames of reference that have often served to

marginalize knowledge production emanating from other contexts such as a feminist

perspective or a black perspective.

This thesis presents a critical analysis of the participation of women academics in research

in the Humanities and Social Sciences in South Africa. I argue in this study that the

discourses and practices of the academy have traditionally operated to marginalize, and

continues to marginalize women effectively excluding them from the arena of research.

Whilst there are many studies that have been conducted investigating women in academia,

the emphases have been essentially on establishing baseline data such as the numbers and

positions women occupy and explanations for the situations that exist. There are, however,

very few studies that have extended the analysis to focus on women as researchers and

knowledge producers within academia as is the case with this study. I also advance the

analyses by arguing for a shift from the widely accepted conceptions that cast women

academics as the problem and focus attention instead on the often hostile culture or climate

of academia.

I argue further that the historical exclusion of women and more especially black women,

from the production of knowledge or research has contributed to the exclusion of women

from positions of power in the social, cultural, political, economic and academic contexts.

My own passion for these issues is directly linked to a conviction that in its public

absence, and in the assumption that knowledge about gender is largely irrelevant to the

possibility of social justice, lies some of the deep roots of women's complex degradations.

This study grew out of my participation in the former Centre for Science Development's

(now part of the National Research Foundation) audit of women academics and

researchers in the Humanities and Social Sciences in South Africa and was carried out in

three phases. The first phase entailed a secondary analysis of the audit data, drawing

comparisons between the national findings and the findings for the province of KwaZulu-Natal.

Besides conducting a general analysis the data was also disaggregated according to

the historically designated racial categories to establish how black women, in particular,

were faring.

Having established a statistical picture, the second phase was concerned with exploring the

qualitative understandings of women academics in research, through the eyes of six black

women academics from KwaZulu-Natal. The six women in the study were selected from

the University of Durban-Westville, the University of Zululand (both historically

disadvantaged institutions) and the University of Natal (a historically advantaged


Although it is my contention that all research is necessarily autobiographical, the third

phase of the study turned my 'subtext' of being the researcher who is simultaneously

'other' into 'text'. In the autobiographical data I author and reflect on my own experiences

as an academic and researcher who is 'other'.

Conducted in a style that challenges the mainstream or what is described as 'male-stream'

conventions and understandings of research practice, I inscribe the personal into the

'scientific' by employing an autobiographical, feminist 'gaze' throughout this study. The

narrative style of communicating parts of the study to the audience, and my attempt to blur

the divide between researcher and researched, express a significant feminist desire to

infuse the generic aspects of feminist theory, feminist methodology, feminist practice and

feminist politics into each other.

Finally the insights gained from this study about the general participation of women

academics in research and more especially, the position and experiences of black women

academics, including myself, achieve many objectives. Not only does it provide baseline

information for the province of KwaZulu-Natal in relation to the national trends but also

serves to unpack this baseline information with respect to the historically designated racial

categories and deepens our understandings of the problems through insights into the day-to-day lived experiences of black women in particular. All of which are integral to

informing equity and redress initiatives designed to bring about transformation and

democratisation in the arena of research in the humanities and social sciences. / Thesis (Ph.D.) - University of Durban-Westville, 2000.
Date January 2000
CreatorsSingh, Suchitra.
ContributorsJansen, Jonathan D., Patitu, Carol.
Source SetsSouth African National ETD Portal
Detected LanguageEnglish

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