Talks / Teaching / Theory

Stop Wasting Time on Academic Fads like Postmodern Psychology and Build a World-Centred African Psychology

Over 8 years ago the Psychology Department of Rhodes University initiated an award to honour prominent members of the psychology community in South Africa for their contribution to social change in various fields of practice.

The award is intended to “acknowledge people who have gone beyond the traditional bounds of the discipline and contributed, through intellectual, professional and personal labour, to social change and transformation in South Africa; expose students to these kinds of role models within psychology; and to think deeply about the role of psychology in relation to facilitating as well as understanding social change”.

The first person to receive the award was the inimitable Professor Noel Chabani Manganyi in 2008.

Chabani Manganyi


Aesthete, quite yet incisive political observer, university leader, educationalist, and of course eminent psychologist, Manganyi would have been my choice too. Man has had many achievements in his long life. However, it is the numerous adversities that he confronted and overcame that seemed to have shaped a man with an irrepressible point of view in a world that not only repressed men and women like him, but as often jailed, banned or killed those who stood against apartheid.

As for achievements in the field of psychology in South Africa, Manganyi was the first to plant a seed for the growth a psychology of black being. A psychology being black is an orientation that is still in desperate need of cultivation since he published some of his ideas in “Being black in the world”, “Alienation and the body in racist society: A study of the society that invented Soweto”, and “Mashangu’s reverie, and other essays”.

Subsequent recipients of the Social Change award have been Dr Yogan Pillay (2009), Prof Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela (2010), Prof Hlengiwe Buhle Mkhize (2011), Prof Cheryl de la Rey (2012), Prof Melvyn Freeman (2013), and Prof Mohamed Seedat (2014).

Last September, I had the honour of following on these talented women and men in accepting the award. The recipient is asked to present public lecture on a topic of here or his choice under the broad theme of social transformation. I elected to present a lecture on my new work on African psychology, with a specific focus on men and masculinities. Here is the abstract of the lecture I presented.

Kopano Ratele Poster annoucement for Rhodes


About three months ago I was in Paris where I had travelled to participate in the 6th European Conference on African Studies (ECAS). Over two years before that I convened three panels at the International Conference on African Studies that took place in Accra, in October 2013. A few months prior in the same year I was at ECAS 5 in Lisbon. Along the way, over a period of 12 years or so, in cities as diverse as Cape Town, Dakar, Helsinki, Lagos, and Leiden, I have participated in numerous other conferences, colloquia, symposia, seminars and lectures on different subjects where Africa and the lives of Africans are in the foreground. Why do I participate in these conferences and what reason do I have to tell you of my travels? The reason is simple yet significant: I was trained in psychology in South Africa and South African psychology has tended not do Africa or do it in a curious ways, meaning my adventures in studies of Africa appear odd. Given that there is little or unfathomable Africa in psychology while we have a thriving psychology in Africa, these travels are part of an ongoing search for more than simply a dealineated home for the psychological in studies of Africa. Three other motives have urged my pursuit. First, I am interested in how Africa is taught, studied, hailed, constructed and consumed by Africans, Americans, Europeans, and others across the globe. Second, I have been looking for points of productive convergence between psychology and other disciplines as taken up in and about Africa. Third, having remarked that scholars who work from a psychological perspective are scarce at conferences on African studies, I have felt that some of the topics under discussion in African studies conferences could benefit from critical African-situated psychological and psycho-analytic analyses. In light of this, this presentation responds to the question why there remains a need for African psychology even when we might feel happy with psychology in Africa. The objective is to contribute towards the development of a world-centred psychology conscious of its location in Africa. Since my scholarship focuses mainly on masculinities, some thoughts will be offered on what one needs to do to become an African psychologist of men in a world where there is a psychology of African men yet there is no African psychology of men. In the continuing personal and collective struggles for African psychology, being aware of the persisting legacy of coloniality-informed knowledge, being and power it may be vital to encourage each other as psychologists to tell our own searches for and hopefully attainment of less self-othering voice. An interest in psychology and Africa cannot be at home in Africa or in American-centred psychology without troubling itself with globally hegemonic traditions into which we are hailed as psychology students, teachers and researchers. The project to develop African psychologies for the world yet conscious of their situatedness is one to which every psychologist in Africa interested in authentic living, relationships, research, and teaching can contribute and from which all can richly benefit.


I have since gone on to elaborate on some these ideas in other lectures, symposia, seminars, colloquia and forums. I seem to be in the middle of re-membering and re-turning. I am remembering what excited into studying psychology in the first place. I am returning fully to psychology to face up to why I got disenchanted with the discipline right in the middle of my master’s degree. The unhappiness is not completely gone. But that last sentence in the abstract contains the sentiment that has brought me back to psychology, and reinvigorate the dying faith in a psychology concerned with the well-being of all people, not just the mental health of those who can pay or live in American suburbs or their imitations.

Surely there remains a huge unrealised potential of psychology in Africa, a psychology that enunciates from and about Africa. Although there may be others who might feel happy with psychology as received, and the happy psychologists include African psychologists and students, and they have every right to enjoy whatever kind of psychology they like, I believe I shall forever remain alienated until I work with others of similar mind to build a world-centred African-originated psychology.

Even more importantly, it seems that African psychologists like myself will remain irrelevant to the lives of most African people until they show their worth by helping primarily people in African countries, but also people wherever they are in these world, how to live authentic lives, characterised by healthy and meaningful relationships, with imagination unshackled, supported by dignified and rewarding work.

I wish someone had shown me the way back when I was in that master’s class, because I wouldn’t have wasted so much time on fancy but really not very useful academic fads like postmodern psychology.


The abstract was first posted on September 28, 2015, on the blog African Men and Masculinities (

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