“The Scales Were Peeled from My Eyes”

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  • Title: “The Scales Were Peeled from My Eyes”: South African Academics Coming to Consciousness to Become Agents of Change
  • Author(s): Grace Ese-osa Idahosa, Louise Vincent
  • Publisher: Common Ground Research Networks
  • Collection: Common Ground Research Networks
  • Series: New Directions in the Humanities
  • Journal Title: The International Journal of Critical Cultural Studies
  • Keywords: Agency, Structures, Transformation, Consciousness, Higher Education
  • Volume: 15
  • Issue: 4
  • Year: 2018
  • ISSN: 2327-0055 (Print)
  • ISSN: 2327-2376 (Online)
  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.18848/2327-0055/CGP/v15i04/13-28
  • Citation: Idahosa, Grace Ese-osa, and Louise Vincent. 2018. "“The Scales Were Peeled from My Eyes”: South African Academics Coming to Consciousness to Become Agents of Change." The International Journal of Critical Cultural Studies 15 (4): 13-28. doi:10.18848/2327-0055/CGP/v15i04/13-28.
  • Extent: 16 pages


For postcolonial societies, addressing the impact of the previous oppressive system in a bid to attain equity and social justice necessitates transformation in various spheres and sectors of society. As cradles of learning, research, and knowledge development, higher education institutions are one such sphere with a particular duty to contribute to, and embody, social transformation. However, almost twenty-five years after the country’s first democratic elections, the institutional cultures and structures of many South African universities still bear the imprimatur of past inequities. Existing research suggests that the success of transformation policies is influenced by the extent to which individual staff members exercise agency to effect transformative practices. But what determines whether an individual becomes an agent of change? This article draws on the experiences of ten academic staff members who have taken actions that can be said to have contributed to shifting in important ways relations and/or practices at one university in South Africa. It adopts a hermeneutic phenomenological lens to understand the lived experiences of participants of having agency and undertaking transformative actions. In taking this approach, we seek an understanding of experience grounded within specific contexts. Analysis of the in-depth interviews with the participants suggested that the underlying catalyst that drives an individual to involve her/himself in actions to effect change is “a coming to consciousness.” The article explores the “coming to consciousness” narratives of the participants and argues that being “conscious” is a necessary condition for being able to identify the discourses, practices, and ways of being that perpetuate injustice. Recognising such discourses, norms, and ways of being enables the agent to then find ways of rejecting and changing such oppressive structures and cultures.