University of Bath

The capability for epistemic contribution: A case of university students in South Africa

Professor Monica McLean discusses engagement of South African rural students with university and how this relates to their epistemic contribution to society.

26 Jun 20182.00pm
26 Jun 20183.30pm

This research paper is based on 64 life history interviews with second-year university students in five South African universities carried out in the first year of an ESRC-DFiD and NRF funded four-year project (Miratho, 2016-2020).

The project’s interest is higher education access, participation and outcomes for rural and (fewer) township youth. The conceptual framework is provided by the capabilities approach developed by Amartya Sen and Martha Nussbaum, which emphasises the extent to which people have opportunities and the freedom (known as capabilities) to be and do what they value (known as functionings). In this conceptualisation, poverty is capability reducing and a university education (potentially) capability expanding.

With the focus on the experience of participation in university learning, the empirical question which Professor Monica McLean addresses is what enables or hinders students to engage with university bodies of knowledge and therefore to gain the freedom to choose to make epistemic contributions to society.