Intruders in the sacred grove of science? : a critical analysis of women academics' participation in research in the humanities and social sciences.
Knowledge production or research in South Africa, as elsewhere in the world, does not occur within 'innocent' spaces devoid of personal, social, political, economic and cultural contexts. Research in the Humanities and Social Sciences has been largely the domain of white, male academics operating within positivistic, western, or eurocentric paradigms that have consequently cast all differing modes of knowledge production as 'other'. Research has been 'normalised' within particular frames of reference that have often served to marginalize knowledge production emanating from other contexts such as a feminist perspective or a black perspective. This thesis presents a critical analysis of the participation of women academics in research in the Humanities and Social Sciences in South Africa. I argue in this study that the discourses and practices of the academy have traditionally operated to marginalize, and continues to marginalize women effectively excluding them from the arena of research. Whilst there are many studies that have been conducted investigating women in academia, the emphases have been essentially on establishing baseline data such as the numbers and positions women occupy and explanations for the situations that exist. There are, however, very few studies that have extended the analysis to focus on women as researchers and knowledge producers within academia as is the case with this study. I also advance the analyses by arguing for a shift from the widely accepted conceptions that cast women academics as the problem and focus attention instead on the often hostile culture or climate of academia. I argue further that the historical exclusion of women and more especially black women, from the production of knowledge or research has contributed to the exclusion of women from positions of power in the social, cultural, political, economic and academic contexts. My own passion for these issues is directly linked to a conviction that in its public absence, and in the assumption that knowledge about gender is largely irrelevant to the possibility of social justice, lies some of the deep roots of women's complex degradations. This study grew out of my participation in the former Centre for Science Development's (now part of the National Research Foundation) audit of women academics and researchers in the Humanities and Social Sciences in South Africa and was carried out in three phases. The first phase entailed a secondary analysis of the audit data, drawing comparisons between the national findings and the findings for the province of KwaZulu-Natal. Besides conducting a general analysis the data was also disaggregated according to the historically designated racial categories to establish how black women, in particular, were faring. Having established a statistical picture, the second phase was concerned with exploring the qualitative understandings of women academics in research, through the eyes of six black women academics from KwaZulu-Natal. The six women in the study were selected from the University of Durban-Westville, the University of Zululand (both historically disadvantaged institutions) and the University of Natal (a historically advantaged institution). Although it is my contention that all research is necessarily autobiographical, the third phase of the study turned my 'subtext' of being the researcher who is simultaneously 'other' into 'text'. In the autobiographical data I author and reflect on my own experiences as an academic and researcher who is 'other'. Conducted in a style that challenges the mainstream or what is described as 'male-stream' conventions and understandings of research practice, I inscribe the personal into the 'scientific' by employing an autobiographical, feminist 'gaze' throughout this study. The narrative style of communicating parts of the study to the audience, and my attempt to blur the divide between researcher and researched, express a significant feminist desire to infuse the generic aspects of feminist theory, feminist methodology, feminist practice and feminist politics into each other. Finally the insights gained from this study about the general participation of women academics in research and more especially, the position and experiences of black women academics, including myself, achieve many objectives. Not only does it provide baseline information for the province of KwaZulu-Natal in relation to the national trends but also serves to unpack this baseline information with respect to the historically designated racial categories and deepens our understandings of the problems through insights into the day-to-day lived experiences of black women in particular. All of which are integral to informing equity and redress initiatives designed to bring about transformation and democratisation in the arena of research in the humanities and social sciences.