Urban Humanities and Their Publics

The Fire This Time: Decolonizing Higher Education, A Conversation with Suren Pillay and Juan Gonzalez

Collage of portraits of Suren Pillay (left) and Juan Gonzalez (right)

As South Africa grapples with a legacy of apartheid, twenty years later the question of its colonial past is being taken up more vociferously in the university. What might this legacy be; how do universities grapple with “decolonizing” knowledge; and what does location mean as a place from which to think the world? From the vantage point of the humanities and social sciences, Suren Pillay and Juan Gonzalez will discuss current predicaments in South African higher education, and examine the ways in which similar civil rights struggles in the United States might offer a transhistorical and global perspective.

Suren Pillay is Associate Professor at the Center for Humanities Research at the University of the Western Cape in Cape Town, South Africa. There he leads a research platform of the flagship on Critical Thought in African Humanities– supported by the National Research Foundation of South Africa–focusing on issues of violence, citizenship and justice claims. He is currently a Visiting Professor at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, as part of the Advanced Research Collaborative. He has an M.Phil, and a Ph.D. in Anthropology from Columbia University.    His research also focuses on  the politics of knowledge in humanities and social sciences in  Africa.  Suren has been a visiting fellow at Jawarhalal Nehru University, India, the Makerere Institute for Social Research, Uganda, the Center for African Studies, Univ. of Cape Town, and the Center for Social Difference, Columbia University.  He is a previous editor of the journal Social Dynamics, and writes a monthly column for Economic and Political Weekly online (EPW), and has published widely in the press.

Juan González has been a staff columnist for New York’s Daily News since 1987, and a co-host since 1996 of Democracy Now, a daily morning news show that airs on more than 1,200 community and public radio and television stations across the US and Latin America. His investigative reports on urban policy, the environment, race relations, the labor movement and US relations with Latin America have garnered numerous accolades, including two George Polk Awards for commentary and lifetime achievement awards from the National Hispanic Heritage Foundation and the National Council of La Raza.  He is the author of four acclaimed books, including Harvest of Empire: A History of Latinos in America, News for All the People: The Epic Story of Race and the American Media and Fallout: The Environmental Consequences of the World Trade Center Collapse.  One of the original founders of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists (NAHJ), Gonzalez served as the group’s president from 2002-2004 and was named to its Hall of Fame in 2008.   Even before he entered journalism, Gonzalez distinguished himself as a leader of the Young Lords, a militant civil rights organization of the late 1960s, and later of the National Congress for Puerto Rican Rights.  This semester, Prof. Gonzalez is the first Latino and first Puerto Rican ever to hold the prestigious Andrés Bello Chair in Latin American Culture and Civilization at the King Juan Carlos I of Spain Center at New York University.