Wits Institute for Social and Economic Research
University of the Witwatersrand
Established by Deborah Posel in September 2001, the Wits Institute for Social and Economic Research (WiSER) in South Africa very quickly established itself as the preeminent interdisciplinary research institute in the humanities and social sciences in South Africa, and one of the most influential globally. The institute draws on a history of advanced interdisciplinary research at the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits) that dates back to the late 1960s. Over the last decade in particular, it has pursued five main objectives with distinctive energy and enterprise. These are: to foster independent, critical inquiry into the complexities and paradoxes of change in South Africa; to conduct this inquiry by drawing intensively on comparative international research, especially from the African continent; to foreground the global theoretical significance of WiSER’s research agenda; to combine aesthetic and social scientific analyses; and to provide an institutional space that strengthens the scholarly dialogue between South African researchers and academics in the rest of the world.
In all these areas, WiSER has achieved very significant success. For many years the institute has succeeded in addressing both a local, public audience interested in the post-Apartheid moment and a large global scholarly network. Since 2013, under Sarah Nuttall’s directorship, and with generous support from Wits and outside donors, the Institute has grown significantly, shaping global and local audiences with an interest in the pressing political and cultural concerns of the post-Apartheid and postcolonial era.
From 2008 to 2016, WiSER hosted the Johannesburg Workshop in Theory and Criticism (JWTC), an experiment in global conversation based in the South. JWTC sought to contribute to the re-territorializing of global intellectual production. The Workshop was a platform for theoretical work that took seriously its location in the South while addressing international conversations and problématiques. JWTC took the labor of theory and criticism to be significant political work, crucial to experimentation in social forms. JWTC was thus intended as an intervention into the ways in which academic practice and critical theory could be pushed, rerouted, and reconvened in productive new ways. Since 2016, WiSER has held a Spring Program in Critical Thought, in collaboration with key Northern humanities institutes with global reach. In partnership with the Franklin Humanities Center at Duke University, the Institute has also launched a Planetary Library Project, a series of international advanced research seminars at the intersection of theory, technology, and medicine.