Bert Olivier

We’ll need two planets by 2030

At the beginning of his latest book, Treading Softly: Paths to Ecological Order, American ecological scholar Thomas Princen quotes from the Living Planet Report of 2008: “Our global [ecological] footprint now exceeds the world’s capacity to regenerate by about 30%. If our demands on the planet continue at the same rate, by the mid-2030s we…

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Douglas Kennedy — a novelist to read

Through my daughter, as much a bibliophile as her father, I recently discovered the novels of Douglas Kennedy. Her birthday gift to me was Leaving the World, a novel she described as “beautiful, but sad”, which propelled me and my partner into a very rewarding fictional journey of discovery. I haven’t come across references to…

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Rome, city of layered history

Walking through this city with its ancient, medieval, Renaissance, baroque and modern history all telescoped together, I reflected on Freud comparing it to the human psyche, what with all the layers of history, of time past, surrounding one wherever you turn. And if the remnants, ecclesiastic, artistic and architectural, which address one on virtually every…

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Rome, Caravaggio, St Matthew and money

Today I saw one of the most beautiful and profound paintings I have ever had the privilege to behold. It is Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio’s The Calling of St Matthew (1602), in the church of San Luigi dei Francesi in Rome. Even if we had not travelled here to participate in one of the wonderfully…

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Power, Malema and the ANC

Could Foucault’s notion of discourse give one a purchase on South African politics? Indeed, it can, specifically by clarifying the relationship between ANCYL leader Julius Malema and the parent body of the ANC. For Foucault, after the student protests of 1968 one could no longer really believe in the kind of (Althusserian) structuralist Marxist science…

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Can one be autonomous in Foucault’s ‘carceral’ society?

Is it possible for individuals to be autonomous today, when evidence suggests that the vast majority simply fall in step, like goose-stepping stormtroopers, with the latest techno-fashions which, in turn, function like sugar-coated pills to lull people into passive, Matrix-like, politically impotent behaviour in front of their PCs or with their iPhones in hand? But…

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The importance of teaching Foucault in a time of conformism

Every time I teach a course on that inimitable “archaeological” and simultaneously “genealogical” thinker Michel Foucault I realise how important it is for students to be exposed to, and engage with, his unique mode of transformative thinking and praxis, or perhaps, thinking AS praxis. For make no mistake, to discover Foucault as a philosopher is…

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Education in a world of forgetting

How does one conceptualise the contemporary educational terrain regarding the challenges it faces in the new century, especially in so far as it is inescapably situated within the broader cultural landscape of 21st-century globalised society? The first thing one should note is that what the Frankfurt School called “technical rationality” is still being given priority…

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On shame, apartheid, and being a white South African

We live in a constitutional democracy, where, apart from the high levels of crime, the co-existence of people of various races is relatively peaceful, judging by my everyday experiences at the university where I teach, in restaurants and coffee shops, and also on occasion at civic functions. I attended such a function tonight at Port…

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How do we heal Earth?

Is there a connection between the exploitation of Earth – in the guise of her so-called “resources” – and capitalism? And, given the age-old conception of Earth as female, or the “Great Mother” (associated with the Goddess of hunter-gatherer times), is there a link between the rise and dominance of patriarchy and this veritable “assault”…

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