- Sociology in South Africa: colonial, apartheid and democratic forms by Radhamany Sooryamoorthy
Having long since retired from the hurly-burly of the South African sociological scene, I initially looked forward to reading this book largely from a sense of nostalgia. I hoped it would transport me into a Proustian ‘remembrance of things past’ and I was not entirely disappointed.
As I read it, I found myself being reminded of such influential South African sociologists of the past as Hansi Pollak, HW (‘Harvey’) van der Merwe, Edward Batson, Nic Rhoodie, Pierre van den Berghe, Marshall Murphree, Frederick van Zyl Slabbert, Fatima Meer, SP Cilliers and Edward Webster.1 To my surprise, however, Leo Kuper is mentioned only briefly and Lawrence Schlemmer and Dunbar Moodie not at all.2 In a sober reminder, the original ideological ‘architects of apartheid’, Hendrik Verwoerd and Geoffrey Cronjé, are identified as having been the country’s first full professors of sociology in the 1930s at Stellenbosch and Pretoria universities respectively.
But as I read and reflected further, I began to realise that this book is no sentimental journey ‘down memory lane’. Rather, it is a thoroughly modern quantitative deconstruction of the history of an academic discipline in one country.
The book’s author, Radhamany Sooryamoorthy, is a statistician-sociologist who was originally trained in India and is now sociology professor at the University of KwaZulu-Natal in Durban. He has published extensively in the field of scientometrics: the quantitative empirical study [End Page 170] of productivity in the sciences through the statistical analysis of computerised datasets listing scientific publications. In this book, he extends this scientometric approach to the study of the origins and development of sociology as an academic discipline in South Africa.
The work deals with the period from the subject’s local genesis in the early twentieth century through to the present time. To do so necessitated that the author first undertake the daunting task of compiling as comprehensive a dataset as possible. The final lists contained details of works published on the topics of both the subject’s local history and South African society itself over the entire 100 years-plus of the study period. Once this dataset had been compiled it served as the basis for the book’s central focus, namely a clinical scientometric dissection of the discipline’s history.
In the subsequent analysis, the development of South African sociology is identified as having occurred in three distinct historical phases: the ‘colonial’ (1900–1947), the ‘apartheid’ (1948–1993), and the ‘democratic’ (1994–2015). These correspond to different political dispensations obtaining in the country during the course of the twentieth and the early twenty-first centuries.
The published works specifically relating to the history of the discipline in each of these three different eras as listed in the datasets, were then subjected to content analysis. This yields details of the distinctive features of sociology in each particular period. The details of published sociological works on South African society contained in datasets for each of the corresponding eras were then further analysed scientometrically.
On the basis of these analyses, the following is concluded:
During the colonial period (1900–1947), sociology as an academic discipline in South Africa was slow to gather momentum. Initially, supported by the Afrikaans churches, it was linked to departments of social work at the Afrikaans-medium universities of Stellenbosch and Pretoria. From the outset, its main concerns were with race relations, poverty, and crime and delinquency amongst the minority white population. The publication of The Carnegie Commission on the Poor White Problem in South Africa (1932) was the vital catalyst which led to the establishment of separate sociology departments at more South African white universities, including the English-language institutions. The number of sociological publications increased slowly over the course of the colonial period, with [End Page 171] over one-third of the total appearing in its last seven years up until 1947. Throughout, however, the discipline remained overwhelmingly preoccupied with social problems amongst the country’s minority white population.
In the apartheid period (1948–1993...