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Professor Danie Brand
University of the Free State

Student protests in South Africa since 2015 confront South African public universities with the question how to enable and foster the disruptive and discomfiting contestation of ideas and positions that protest expresses and that is of the essence of the university itself, in the face of calls for the restoration of stability, continuity and ‘law and order’.

In my paper I explore this question. I ask how to safeguard the essential disruptive character of protest in the context of the neo-liberal university, where the emphasis on productivity, efficiency, ‘excellence’ and competition depicts disruption as inimical to the academic project: how, specifically, to avoid the descent of protest in this context into antagonistic, polarized conflict – protest inviting its own end.

Drawing on theories of agonistic politics (Mouffe; Laclau) and notions of the university as an agonistic space I seek to develop a principled basis upon which to approach these questions.

Danie Brand is the director of the Free State Center for Human Rights at the University of the Free State in Bloemfontein, South Africa. His teaching and research is on constitutional law and theory, with a focus on the relationship between law and poverty. He has published on the use of constitutional socio-economic rights in the fight against poverty and on land and housing law. He runs a public interest legal practice, litigating primarily on housing and land disputes.

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