Final Conference “University Campuses in Africa and Beyond: Training Grounds, Moral Spaces and Political Arenas”

Thanks to a generous grant from the Fritz Thyssen Foundation, Remoboko organised its final conference entitled “University Campuses in Africa and Beyond: Training Grounds, Moral Spaces and Political Arenas” at Leibniz-Zentrum Moderner Orient (ZMO) in Berlin on 6-8 September 2023.

Concept note

A learning and training institution, the university constitutes both a moral space and a social fabric (Nafziger and Strong 2020; Ndofirepi and Cross 2017). Historically, university campuses have been at the heart of social and political imaginations and experiences, and have proved transformative of aspirations, living conditions and power relations across the world. In Europe and America, university campuses offered the breeding grounds for political ideas and aspirations that radically transformed social dynamics, especially in the 1960s; in both colonial and postcolonial Africa, universities emerged as the building sites of the state and the central piece of the political economy of the newly set polities, as they trained the backbone of the state administration (Mellanby 1958; Ike 1977), promised social advancement and even development (Assié-Lumumba 2011; Livsey 2017); in contemporary India, university campuses breed and feed nationalism, exclusionary and identity politics; at the global level, the branching out of universities has become a trend and a model for a knowledge economy that is conquering the world, drawing interest from various walks of the society, but also prompting reconsideration of the added-value of university education and campus experience today (Connell 2019; Guèye 2017; Mellanby 1958; Hauerwas 2007).

While university education can be defined as a social asset, the campus emerges as a political arena (Assié-Lumumba 2011) that often hosts rival and competing ideas and actors working to offer visions of the world, models of social status and even divine salvation. In many countries, as a state institution, the university is at the center of public policies and affects governance, especially since its funding, for example, has implications for both political stability, youth aspirations, economic performance and social coexistence.

Such as a position has turned university campuses into moral spaces, sites of contestations and arenas where various moral agents be they leftist, secular or religious, take roles, acquire influence, and engage in competitions that shape the experience of being student, lecturer, or staff member. What skills and expertise become valued, sought for, and promoted? What social engineering initiatives, moral entrepreneurships and political agendas unfold and mobilize on university campuses today? How are these agents, claims and agendas co-habiting the same space? How is this process affecting life on campus? What forms, tools and ideas of politics emerge in that context? What moral ecology unfolds, especially when morality rests grounded into religiosity and absolute truth-claims? And then, what are the consequences of the secular dismissal of religion and religiosity, when intellectual culture is built on acute skepticism, evolutionism and even atheism?

With such questions in mind, we claim that university campuses offer a site of a critical examination of morality, aspirations and normative orders. In the quest for social becoming, students in particular, have to deal with a conjunction of moral and knowledge economies often at odds with each other, forcing them to be creative and modular, as they navigate the requirements of an academic curriculum, the constraints of everyday life and the expectations of their broader sociopolitical environment. In short, this conference seeks to examine how university campuses in Africa and beyond:

  1. offer training for various skills and know-how which translate into key assets for the social becoming of students beyond the campus;
  2. become a site of moral activism where competing claims of social good and citizenry lead to projects of self-transformation (individual, collective) and/or even conflicts of norms;
  3. feed on various forms of engagements (intellectual, religious, political) while developing their own politics (regional, religious, ethnic, ideological, etc.).

Programme

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