Don’t Touch Me on My Discipline! Decolonisation, Disciplinarity and the Problem of Curricular Coherence



Design Education Strategy


  • disciplinarity, curricular coherence, design, decolonisation, social justice, recurriculation, South African Higher Education

Since the mid 1990’s, recurriculation efforts in South Africa have been marked by ideological complexity. Although there is general agreement, post-apartheid, that curriculum should contribute to the construction of a just, equitable and democratic post-apartheid society, the question of how to get there is not straightforward. Broadly speaking, in the new South Africa, curriculum reform has been oriented around a liberal democratic notion of transformation.

Within this framework, social justice is imagined in terms of equal opportunity and here, the notion of access key. Arguments have been made that curricular coherence and thus disciplinarity are essential to various forms of “access”).  Well-designed curricula are said to facilitate epistemological access (Morrow 2009), promote deep learning and foster academic development). Coherent curriculum promotes learner-centeredness, increases social mobility and individual empowerment. 

The question that remains unanswered is how the liberal-democratic social justice agenda of redress, inclusivity, epistemic access squares with the radicalism of decolonisation (Tuck & Yang 2012, Patel 2015). Using two seminal reports produced in 2013 as departure points – “The Report of the ministerial committee for the review of the funding of universities” and (Nzimande 2013) and “A Proposal for undergraduate curriculum reform in South Africa I argue that that although disciplinary access is a social justice issues is vital to transform in when this encounters decolonisation tensions and contradiction emerge. This may be because  decolonisation is a discourse that is fundamentally and paradigmatically disruptive and decentering of Western rationality. Decolonisation might be said to fundamentally challenge progressive social justice This means making a long-term commitment to experimenting with novel forms of curricular coherence and inventing new approaches to teaching and learning.

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