- Voices That Reason: theoretical parables
Voices that Reason: theoretical parables not only signifies a creative and scholarly contribution by Ari Sitas, especially to theoretical development about the world around us, but also a source of optimism for the historically marginalised and dominated scientific voices in the South, especially in Africa. The main concern in this book is with the challenges facing the social sciences, and in particular sociology in South Africa and the rest of Africa. In examining these challenges and constraints, he makes some bold concrete proposals on how they could be overcome. Amongst the key challenges he identifies is that of Afro-pessimism. He notes with grave concern that there is pervasive Afro-pessimism within the current hegemonic post-modern globalisation discourse in which Africa and its people are seen as having no special contribution to make to the world's development. As Sitas points out, within this discourse, there is overwhelming consensus amongst the non-African scholars, centred on the perception of Africa 'as a continent in institutional, mental, economic decline, a cauldron of misery … as a continent of Islamic fundamentalisms in its north, of amassing chaos and anarchy, and incubator of epidemics and disease, drought an scarcity, coups and genocide, in short, the world's horrific racialised "other"', that '… Africa's prospects are bleak and worsening by the day' (16). Other challenges and constraints to social sciences and sociology in Africa identified by Sitas, mainly internal to SA, include the decline in universities as institutions within which scholarship occurs due mainly to reduced public spending and shift in funding towards science, engineering and technology disciplines. This has led to disturbing staff: student ratios, especially in the historically black universities, and also to situations where low salaries for academic staff [End Page 141] exacerbated by reduced funding, have pushed staff into consultancies in order to supplement their income (18-19).
While Sitas acknowledges the serious challenges confronting the social sciences and sociology in SA and the rest of the continent, he however challenges the pervasive Afro-pessimism. He instead argues that Africa has a chance and capacity to reassert itself and claim a place in today's competitive world. This, he argues, is presented by the discourse's libertarian principles that acknowledge social plurality and difference which led to the questioning of the First World's scientific values and grant theories, present opportunity for the 'other' and the historically marginalised. This is captured in the following remark by Sitas: 'It was not long before an emerging politics of difference pioneered by feminism and …those who have been "othered" and "marginalised" generated the advocacy of multi-perspectivism and pride in cultural autonomy … They pioneered ... the "politics of identity"'(27). A challenge to Afro-pessimism can also be detected within the culture-economy debate whereby claims made that African traditions, cultures and thought systems are inimical to socio-economic, intellectual and technological progress and development,1 were met with strong criticism discrediting those claims.2 A further source of hope for the social sciences in Africa, although inadequate, is according to Sitas the attempts made by the Council for the Development of Social Science Research in Africa (CODESRIA) and the Organisation for Social Science Research in Eastern and Southern Africa (OSREA) to create and support research networks for meaningful collaboration. He however argues that for these to become a success, they should be supplemented with 'substance, commitment and creativity' (20).
In the light of the possibilities that are presented by the post-modern discourse that recognises difference and plurality, Sitas suggests that for African social scientists to take advantage of such opportunities and make a meaningful contribution to the world of knowledge and ideas, they should not only overcome certain 'mental barricades' but should also appreciate the value that lies in their unique, dynamic local experiences and the activities of ordinary people as they creatively and actively engage with their environment. Note here his outline of what he sees as the task for social scientists in Africa:
... the only metaphor for social science comes from our very own local...