Change the world

The Complexity of Rising from a Scholarly Critique to Maturing as an Ethical Warrior

Prof. Catherine A. Odora Hoppers

Webinar: 16 February 2021, 14:00pm SAST      Webinar Series Homepage

Professor Hoppers is a UNESCO expert in basic education, lifelong learning, information systems and on Science and Society; an expert in disarmament at the UN Department of Disarmament Affairs; an expert to the World Economic Forum on benefit sharing and value addition protocols; and the World Intellectual Property Organisation on traditional knowledge and community intellectual property rights. She held a National Chair in South Africa “South African Research Chair in Development Education” (hosted by the University of South Africa). She is a Member of the Academy of Science of South Africa, and a Fellow of the African Academy of Sciences. She got her PhD from Stockholm University (Sweden), an honorary doctorate in Philosophy from Orebro University (Sweden); an honorary doctorate in Education from Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University (South Africa). She received the Presidential Medal of Honour for Academic Leadership from the President of Uganda in 2013; a National Pioneers Award given by the Elders of South Africa (in the Freedom Park, South Africa in 2014); the Nelson Mandela Distinguished Africanist Award for Leadership given by His Excellency Thabo Mbeki in 2015; the Unisa Woman of the Year in 2015. She was named a “Leading Educationist” and honoured in the Gallery of Leadership in a permanent exhibition in Kgorong in Unisa (South Africa). In 2017, Professor Hoppers received the distinction from UNESCO as an Honorary Fellow in Lifelong learning.



(Part 1)


Various caveats to sharpen our diagnostic capabilities:

  1. Knowledge, the Community and Society

As a people, we know that no community is complete without the other. No society is complete in itself. The “Other” opens us, enlarges us. Without the otherness of the other, the self is incomplete and even vulnerable. What is true of society is true of knowledge. No knowledge is complete in itself. No knowledge is complete without the dreams of the other. Hospitality, reciprocity, generosity, plurality -- without these, no “commons” of knowledge is possible (Visvanathan 2016).

  1. Education and its link with barbarity

Elie Wiesel stated (in a speech to the Global Forum, Moscow in 1990), that the designers and perpetrators of the Holocaust were the heirs of Kant and Goethe. In most respects the Germans were the best educated people on Earth, he said, but their education did not serve as an adequate barrier to barbarity. What was wrong with their education? In Wiesel's words: "It emphasized theories instead of values, concepts rather than human beings, abstraction rather than consciousness, answers instead of questions, ideology and efficiency rather than conscience" (Wiesel 1990: 99).

  1. Bacon, Galileo, Descartes and their legacies

From the genealogical point of view Orr (1991) said that historically, Francis Bacon's proposed union between knowledge and power foreshadows the contemporary governance alliance between government, business, and knowledge that has wrought so much mischief. Secondly, Galileo's separation of the intellect foreshadows the dominance of the analytical mind over that part given to creativity, humor, and wholeness. Thirdly, in Descartes' epistemology, one finds the roots of the radical separation of self and object. Together these three laid the foundations and governance for modern education, foundations now enshrined in myths we have come to accept without question. On this simplified foundations of the Western paradigm of “seeing”, rambling and towering edifices in education, law, science, economics have been built and are taught daily to children throughout the world.

  1. Democracy, true democracy... lived democracy…

John Ralston Saul in his book A Fair Country: Telling the Truths about Canada (2009) refers to the present state of global affairs around education as an “unsustainable existential illiteracy” that bedevils the educated elite in its dealings with the local contexts. He states poignantly that democracy, true democracy – in fact lived democracy, in particular in the West as it faces the colonies - is a terrifying thought.

…you wanted land. The land belonged to somebody else. You took it. You despise the actual owner. You believe that you are pure and unique. You believe that you are exempt from the ethical principles. You wish every day that the original owner would die soon or perish faster, but she/he doesn’t quite die. Then you impose a legal system complete with lawyers and judges to defend that historical act of theft. The last thing you want is actual voice of such a person to enter the chorus. (Ralston Saul, 2009: xv)

  1. A look at the worldviews that surrounds us today

Ralston Saul documents in his 2014 book The Comeback how the prevailing and dominating worldviews that surrounds us today, and which we are all compelled to respond to is one that is: narrow in its vision, exclusive and detached in relating to the total environment, analytical and deductive it its perception and thinking, linear in its “doing”, hierarchical and competitive it its management of the field of activity. The analysis comes from the fact that the era of the Empire, weak and strong at the same time, declared Africa and Indigenous peoples to have nothing. Its knowledge systems were irrelevant. We were unsuited for the “modern” world. The Imperial, twisted, parochial mythologies taught us in Africa for instance, that a handful of countries in Europe dominated all thoughts, and actions, and naturally set the pattern for the world. They mangled Darwin’s theories of evolution into a populist racist, political narrative of progress and race; and they used it to justify their untold violence on Africa and the Third World saying all the while that is was a manifestation of scientific destiny. So they intentionally headed everything; from table manners and dress codes, to economic methods, political philosophy, and governmental administration, to notions of civilizational truth and destiny.

  1. Educational Curricula

Educational curricula were filled at the base, with these absurdities. They then went to mount attacks on indigenous cultures and peoples and demean them by banning their languages, cultures, rituals and all things spiritual. Illegal, unethical acts followed. Myriad laws, regulations and administrative structures were created - and amended- in order to install a legal infrastructure and punishment, both social and economic (Ralston Saul 2014: 1-12). It is stunningly untenable!

  1. The role of the universities in all of these

Our universities which ought to take us to the same philosophical and cultural universe as our highest levels of justice, are instead furnished to deny all non-western sensibilities. The intractable problems which have arisen from “business as usual” denial approach of institutions all over the world, identified by Odora Hoppers and Richards, in their book “Rethinking thinking: Modernity’s “Other” and the transformation of the University” (2012) include (among others) colonialism, deadly knowledge apartheid, global warming and the destruction of the biosphere, unemployment, war, ethnic violence (typically fueled by historic humiliation and deep mass resentment). Our natural world doesn’t need people who can read per se! It needs people who are caring, who have values, who possesses a conscience. And sadly, these people have been labelled “primitive” by the mainstream culture, the Western one. Their value systems rendered obsolete.


If philosophy of the future exists, it must be born outside of Europe or equally born in consequence of meetings and impacts between Europe and non-Europe. (Foucault, 1999: 113).

  1. Towards a Constructive Intercultural Debate

Modern science does not constitute the only form of knowledge, and closer links need to be

established between this and other forms, systems and approaches to knowledge, for their mutual enrichment and benefit. A constructive intercultural debate is in order, to help find ways of better linking modern science to the broader knowledge heritage of humankind. (UNESCO, 2000: paragraph 35).

  1. Towards Equitable Validation

Knowledge systems need to learn from and validate one another. Indigenous ways of living/knowing opens to us the crucial distinction between “frugal subsistence” and “poverty” (Gupta 1999). Education should produce leaders who must look beyond the “classroom” and its world of objects, categories and restrictive logic to foster a wider understanding of science, history, technologies, and cultural sciences as practiced by other knowledge systems. A new sustainable platform for dialogue between knowledge systems should emerge in which the present subordinate cultures can find words to articulate its values and knowledge in public without duress (Odora Hoppers, 2018).

  1. Cultural Justice, Functional Tolerance and Social Cohesion

Social cohesion especially in the southern part of Africa would easily collapse if Africans as the natural majority were not willing to suspend ‘that which is taken for granted’ and bear the burden of unfamiliar cultural transformations. Cultural justice in the context of an African renaissance must require, at minimum, that this burden of the unfamiliar be shared more equitably by people from different cultural backgrounds across society (Kwenda 2003). In other words, cultural justice takes us from tolerance to respect in cultural politics, arguing that what is needed is functional respectful coexistence. By respectful is meant mutuality in paying attention, according regard and recognition as well as taking seriously what the other regards as important.  By functional is meant that coexistence is predicated on a degree of interaction that invokes the cultural worlds of the players, in essence what they, in their distinctive ways, take for granted. In other words, cultural injustice occurs when people are forced by coercion or persuasion to submit to the burdensome condition of suspending – or permanently surrendering – what they naturally take for granted. This means that in reality the subjugated person has no linguistic or cultural ‘default drive’ – that critical minimum of ways, customs, manners, gestures and postures that facilitate uninhibited, unselfconscious action (Kwenda 2003:70).  By its converse, cultural justice means that the burden of constant self-consciousness is shared or at the very least recognised, and where possible rewarded. The sharing part is very important because it is only in the mutual vulnerability that this entails that the meaning of intimacy and reciprocity in community can be discovered. It is in this sharing that, on the one hand, cultural difference is transcended and, on the other, cultural arrogance, by which is meant that disposition to see in other cultures not simply difference, but deficiency, is overcome. The cultural work that is entailed in constructing functional tolerance therefore goes beyond providing equal opportunities in, say, education to unclogging of hearts filled with resentment (Kwenda 2003, Odora Hoppers 2005, 2007).

Posted on 09 February 2021 08:30:00

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