The Lineages of Influence and Dispute in South African Literary Studies

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This paper provides a survey of the influence exerted by the Leavisite school of practical criticism on the emergence of literary studies at English medium universities in South Africa in the 1950s and 1960s. It demonstrates that the broad challenge to the Leavisite tradition in England by the Cultural Materialists during the 1960s and 1970s was replicated in the South African situation, as some of the proponents of 'protest literature' sought to harness the study of literature in South Africa to the pursuit of a general project of political liberation in the country. In the post apartheid era, teachers of literature, at both the secondary and tertiary level, are confronted by a plethora of possibilities in terms of both the content of literature courses, and the theoretical perspectives that can be adopted in presenting them. The paper concludes with a consideration of how one might make curriculum choices about what and how to teach literature in this particular situation, deliberations that inevitably raise questions about the very rationale for teaching literature in a contemporary humanities programme.


Keywords: Practical criticism, Leavis, Cultural materialism, South African universities, Protest literature, Post apartheid literature
Stream: Literature, Literary Studies
Presentation Type: Paper Presentation in English
Paper: Lineages of Influence and Dispute in South African Literary Studies, The


Dr. Mike Kissack

Senior lecturer, School of Education, University of the Witwatersrand
Johannesburg, Gauteng, South Africa

Mike Kissack is a Senior Lecturer in the School of Education, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg. His main research areas are in the development of courses in the humanities in the post-apartheid curriculum, with a particular focus on the future of literary and historical studies. This work is complemented by concerns with professional development in education, particularly in the context of the historical evolution of teaching as a profession.

Ref: H08P0075