Chair in Identities and Social Cohesion in Africa


Andrea Hurst


Professor Andrea Hurst

Primary Discipline: Philosophy

Faculty: Arts

Biosketch of Interim Chair Professor Andrea Hurst

Professor Hurst was awarded PhD in Philosophy from Villanova University, Philadelphia, 2006. This research focused on bringing complexity-thinking in continental philosophy into contact with psychoanalytic theory, leading to the publication of a book entitled Derrida vis-á-vis Lacan: Interweaving Deconstruction and Psychoanalysis (New York: Fordham University Press, 2008), as well as over 40 accredited articles and book chapters on related subjects. From her appointment in 2012 at Nelson Mandela University, she has been extensively engaged with the revival and restructuring of Philosophy as a discipline at the University, and served for nearly 2 years as Director: School of Language, Media and Culture (2016-2017). Professor Hurst has been and remains deeply committed to building research capacity. She has organised an on-going weekly Philosophy seminar, and has developed and presented close to 30 research workshops, including 8 5-day workshops on academic writing for publication. She has also recently served for 4 years as Editor-in Chief of the South African Journal of Philosophy (2014-2017).

Relevance of research

In line with the National Development Plan, the research programme in Identities and Social Cohesion, places focus on the interrelations between art forms, identities, knowledge production and social cohesion. Fusing philosophical inquiry with practice-based knowing in the various arts, the aim is to investigate whether and how intellectual experimentation and aesthetic practices may work to undo bounded, adversarial identities, re-imagine emancipatory social spaces and dynamics, and promote the kind of dialogue and healing that restores dignity.

The relevance of such collaboration between philosophy and the arts is at once pedagogical and ethical. Making a paradigmatic shift beyond both self-confident conceptual models and self-assertive anti-conceptual strategies, such aesthetic exploration calls upon researchers to modify ingrained habits of thought, develop intellectual confidence, and draw on art’s unique power to engage people emotionally in questioning, raising doubts, creating dialogue, and opening educational spaces in which to imagine novel solutions to social issues. The ethical hope is that reflective spaces of dialogical interaction between diverse voices, will create better ways to see and be in the world.

Current research interests

Professor Hurst remains engaged, broadly speaking, in examining the interfaces between philosophy as a way of life in its many dimensions, psychoanalytic thinking, and the development of notions of ethical responsibility within the contemporary paradigmatic shift from “simplicity” to “complexity.” The extension of this research into the field of aesthetics and practice-based knowing in the various arts, promises to be an exciting new development.



How is a cohesive society achieved?

In a country with many different identities, how is a cohesive society achieved? This is the quintessential South African and global question being addressed by the SARChI Chair in Identities and Social Cohesion.

How do we create South African communities that are both deeply aware of – and responsive to – our fractious past, and committed to social cohesion, unbinding the rigid identities that lead to exclusion, social antagonism and violence?

The Chair is addressing this question in two ways. The first is through philosophical and theoretical research pertaining to the diverse aspects of identities and social cohesion and their interrelationship. The second is through experimental and experiential learning.

On the research front, the Chair supports 20 students at various levels from honours to postdoctoral, and publishes research articles with a number of local, national and international research associates. In 2019 chairholder Professor Andrea Hurst also guest edited a special issue of the SA Journal of Philosophy called Identities in Question.

“When we identify ourselves with a specific identity, everyone else becomes ‘the other’,” Prof Hurst explains. “We have many different ways of understanding ‘the other’ and each brings with it a whole lot of philosophical presupposition of what ‘the other’ is, with an ethical stance emanating from this, in either damaging or emancipatory ways.”

She offers the example of an article by Mandela University master’s student Lungelo Manona, published in Image and Text in 2018, based on the movie Inxeba (The Wound), about the Xhosa manhood initiation ritual ulwaluko. Manona’s article was an analysis of masculinities and the cultural pressure to conform to a particular masculinity.

“What is exciting is that many more people, especially younger people, identify themselves as having a fluid identity and it is this dismantling of identity that fosters social cohesion.”

Professor Vulindlela Nyoni, head of the Department of Visual Arts at Mandela University and one of the Chair’s associates, explores another aspect of identity dismantling, positing that the human condition today is by its nature diasporic. To be diasporic, Nyoni notes, is to be displaced, without the prospect of any return to an origin. He argues that this “between state” of not-belonging, in which a person is neither one of the in-group nor an outsider, is increasingly the case, and presents an opportunity for recognition of our diasporic state to become a condition for social cohesion. The experimental and experiential learning response to the Chair’s research question was developed in 2018 and this year has taken the form of an “aesthetic event” called The Tributaries Project. The project is co-funded by the Engagement Office and is a transdisciplinary collaboration between the Chair and Mandela University’s Department of Visual Arts.

The Tributaries Project is becoming many different things for its diverse participants – academics, students and community members. All are responding to the same questions: In social conditions of extreme diversity, what would a cohesive community look like? Under which conditions would it “work” or “not work”?

A key aspect of the research is to acquire insight through practical knowledge into how aesthetic, scientific and philosophical practices may contribute to understanding the link between identity and social cohesion.

The project takes members out of their comfort zones, during a three-day sea-to-source pilgrimage. Twelve people at a time start off in Sardinia Bay where they engage with academics, experience diverse sites first-hand, such as the wastewater treatment works, lighthouse and the polluted Swartkops estuary, and participate in activities such as a beach clean-up. Then they head up the Swartkops River towards the source in Groendal where they drink pure, pristine water in a wilderness area. Participants are asked to produce a response for the end of year multimedia/multidimensional exhibition, which can be anything from an article to a poem, a video, a piece of music, an artwork, experiment, performance or an academic presentation.

Prof Hurst explains: “The Chair’s methodology is a version of complexity thinking and philosophy which relates to the concept of ‘assemblage’, where concepts and spaces may clash or coincide, creating spaces of mutual inspiration. From this, new directions emerge that the collaborators might not have thought about at the beginning, with potentially innovative responses to questions about the link between identity and social cohesion.”