Visitor gunning for international programmes

19 August 2002
SPEAKING at the Vice-Chancellor's Open Planning Forum last week, Professor Giles Gunn gave some insights into the practical and philosophical aspects of the interdisciplinary Global and International Studies Programme he directs at the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB).

Gunn started his Monday morning session on Globalising the Curriculum: Can you major in global studies?, however, by referring to what he described as the "myths of globalisation", before discussing the debates around its origins and, finally, the impact the concept has had on academic studies, specifically in the United States. There, globalisation as a field of study has long been ignored by those in the social sciences and the humanities, Gunn argued.

"We too often still continue to view globalisation, I think at least, as a passing academic fad."

But globalisation is here to stay, he emphasised. "The challenge for international higher education is not to decide whether globalisation deserves to be taken seriously, but how best to engage it critically; how, in other words, to assess its potentials, its implications, and its consequences."

The subject has demanded that students "relinquish some of their older intellectual habits and acquire some new ones", Gunn observed. "Chief among these older intellectual habits that must be amended must be the lowering of the barrier within the academy that currently divides the social sciences from the humanities in the curriculum."

The UCSB's undergraduate major in Global and International Studies is one programme that has successfully managed to straddle many disciplines, and has grown beyond all expectations, he said. "Within two-and-a-half years, we have moved from the opening of a major, to a major which now has almost 800 students."

After Gunn's address, Forum participants pointed to the difficulties in setting up multidisciplinary research and study programmes in an environment where disciplines are still very much entrenched and divided. Most of the morning's questions were around the practical and administrative implications of such programmes.

Invited to UCT by Professor David Chidester of the Department of Religious Studies and Deputy Registrar, Dr Jim McNamara, Gunn and his wife, Dr Deborah Sills, are taking part in a number of conferences and events during their stay in South Africa. More specifically, Gunn is the keynote speaker at a conference on "Beyond Solidarity? Social Cohesion in a Globalising World", which takes its title from his most recent book, Beyond Solidarity: Pragmatism and Difference in a Globalised World.

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