UKZN’s Professor Maheshvari Naidu outside the United Nations.
Associate Professor of Anthropology at UKZN’s College of Humanities, Professor Maheshvari Naidu, held a post-graduate teaching seminar at the Gender Centre at the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies in Geneva, Switzerland.
The Centre engages in transformative research that questions gendered power relations in development and international relations.
The seminar, which Naidu was invited to present at, was in a Masters level module: Anthropology and Sociology of Development.
Subtitled: Gender, Culture and Power, the seminar examined how gendered hierarchies intersect with other systems of domination – race, class, age and sexual orientation – and probed the underlying mechanisms of discrimination and exclusion.
The module invited the students to revisit the work of a number of referential social scientists who have theorised the concept of power (Weber, Bourdieu, Durkheim and Foucault) and to reassess the theories from a critical feminist and gender perspective.
Through a number of reflexive exercises, students translated the abstract concepts of gender, culture and power into observable social interactions and lived experiences.
Organised by the core lecturer of the module, Professor Fenneke Reysoo, the curriculum of the module was aimed at allowing ‘creative and critical class dynamic theoretical thinking’ and to demonstrate how this articulates with everyday empirical evidence in order to ‘think’ transformative actions.
Naidu’s seminar taught how a ‘white and western’ Foucauldian lens could be applied to an African context.
She drew on her early research (Anthropology Southern Africa, 2009, 32) showing how she used ‘white’ and male Foucault to read ‘black’ female African bodies.
Naidu worked with the Swiss students to show how the ethnographic vignettes in the article allowed a Foucauldian reading to be applied in a non-western and African context.
‘The ethnographic material allowed a glimpse into the materiality of a particular category of African female workers (and their bodies) who have been, in a sense, rendered docile by the disciplinary inscription of what they have to wear as they “produce their labour” as cleaners,’ said Naidu.
Naidu’s seminar ‘troubled’ the potential hegemony and use of classical and so called western notions of culture and power and questioned whether these theories ‘are lost in translation as we attempt to twist them to fit ethnographic realities that are from the global south’.
In keeping with the design of the class, Naidu also worked with exercises and embodiment practices that attempted to further disrupt the power dynamics inherent within the researcher/researched relationship in the context of ‘doing’ work on gender, culture, and power.
The response from the group of Masters students was extremely positive and Naidu said the exchange was engaging and fruitful.
‘It was wonderful engaging with the students, some of whom were from Tonga, Australia, Brazil, India and France. They were extremely receptive in their comments and questions,’ said Naidu.
She also did a public presentation on her recent research at the monthly Gender Seminar Series organised by the Graduate Institute. The Gender Seminar Series was open to the entire faculty and students and broader Geneva intellectual community.
Professor Fenneke Reysoo of the Graduate Institute and the Scientific Director of the Gender Centre, hosted Naidu.
Reysoo has had ties with South African Higher Education institutions for over a decade. She taught between 2004 and 2013 at the SANPAD Research Capacity Initiative where she was involved in qualitative methodology training workshops.
Through an Andrew Mellon Foundation Fellowship, she was a visiting professor at Rhodes University in Grahamstown in 2015 teaching on Culture and Power to post-graduate students in Political and International Studies.
Reysoo and Naidu will continue their teaching and research relationship and include their post-graduate students within a teaching exchange relationship.