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Epistemological issues in African higher education


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Horsthemke, Kai:
Epistemological issues in African higher education.
In: Ndofirepi, Amasa P. ; Gwaravanda, Ephraim T. (Hrsg.) : African higher education in the 21st century : Epistemological, ontological and ethical perspectives. - Leiden ; Boston : Brill, 2020. - S. 38-56. - (African higher education ; 7)
ISBN 978-90-04-44208-5


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Higher education, and education generally, is a prime site for the transmission, facilitation, development and production of knowledge. This is a truism bordering on platitude. Universities, in particular, are literally defined in terms of the generation of knowledge. The debate over whether knowledge should be regarded as instrumental, for example in terms of personal or social progress, advancement and transformation, or whether it should (also) be treated as valuable in and for itself indicates only one of many epistemologically charged concerns in African higher education. In this paper, I aim to provide an overview of a few of the epistemological issues that have arisen over the past few decades with regard to higher education on the African continent. First and foremost, the ideas of indigenous (local, traditional) knowledge and knowledge systems, and related ideas like African ways of knowing have received a great amount of attention. Second, the notions of diverse epistemologies and epistemological diversity have had both broad and deep coverage, especially in terms of the training, the socialisation into research, received by postgraduate, notably doctoral students in African universities. What is arguably characteristic of African conceptions of knowledge is a strongly relational element that is also found in African ontology and ethics. Coming to know is understood as a process of persons developing insights in relation with one another and with all that exists. This indicates not only an intimate relationship between knower and known, between what it is to know and what it is to be known, but in effect also a communalist understanding of knowledge: I know because we know. Or, A knower is a knower because of other knowers. This understanding of knowledge relations and knowledge communities then serves to validate indigenous insights and multitudinous ways of knowing, alternative conceptions of knowledge and epistemological diversity. At the heart of most if not all epistemological debates regarding African higher education is a reclamation project that is significantly concerned with decolonisation and Africanisation. Notwithstanding the political and ethical tenability and legitimacy of this project, my concerns have been (and continue to be) the following: that indigenous knowledge discourses have tended towards an implicit or explicit endorsement of relativism (both about knowledge and about truth) and/or validation of all kinds of superstition, and that preoccupation with diverse epistemologies or epistemological diversity has tended towards a misuse of ‘epistemology’ and ‘epistemological’.

Weitere Angaben

Publikationsform:Aufsatz in einem Buch
Schlagwörter:African higher education; Africanisation; diverse epistemologies; indigenous knowledge; relativism; superstition
Sprache des Eintrags:Englisch
Institutionen der Universität:Philosophisch-Pädagogische Fakultät > Pädagogik > Lehrstuhl für Bildungsphilosophie und Systematische Pädagogik
Open Access: Freie Zugänglichkeit des Volltexts?:Nein
Begutachteter Aufsatz:Ja
Titel an der KU entstanden:Ja
Eingestellt am: 11. Mai 2021 14:24
Letzte Änderung: 05. Okt 2021 11:13
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