Watch: CEO of HSRC Talks to SALDRU about Significance of Inequality Research and Engaged Scholarship

We know a lot about the major indicators regarding the nature of inequality, but we don’t know a lot about what’s going on inside people’s heads, the CEO of the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC), Crain Soudien, told SALDRU on the side-lines of the SALDRU/African Centre of Excellence for Inequality Research (ACEIR) and Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) conference on inequalities in Southern Africa.

SALDRU caught up with Soudien to hear his views about the role of research in tackling inequality.

A lot of research focuses on measuring proxies, such as housing and education, but there’s a need to deepen our understanding of these proxies, he argued. In this regard, Soudien made a plea: “We need to understand what the direct effects on people are and how, particularly, the trauma of poverty and inequality are activators or inhibitors for how people are dealing with situations which they are confronted with. For example, the damage of apartheid has been very severe and the way in which people use drugs and alcohol to deal with the situation they find themselves in, is something that needs to be understood empirically,” he argued.

“South Africa has a very particular kind of chemistry and combination of things to it. We need to be doing a whole lot more research. So, we know a lot, but there’s a whole lot that we don’t know,” Soudien said.

Responding to a question about collaboration between academia and civil society, Soudien said that UCT is responsible for introducing the idea of “engaged scholarship” into the academic community.

Engaged scholarship is a very particular idea about how you take your knowledge and bring it to bear on solving problems, not in a patronizing way, but by making that knowledge itself an area of democratization and engagement.

Soudien said that engaged scholarship is most applicable for dealing with racial, economic and geographic challenges as a way forward, given the way that things stand at the moment in the South African context. Engaged scholarship is about getting into an ethical space, which our research now needs to come to understand, he concluded.