Higher education in an era of complexity: "The tributaries project" as a higher education heterotopia

Keywords: higher education, heterotopia, academic engagement, complexity, The Tributaries Project, Edgar Morin, Michel Foucault


Widespread calls to develop modes of teaching and learning in higher education for a paradigm of complexity recognize higher education’s double task; namely, to graduate students not only with technical/theoretical expertise, but also the capacity for responsible citizenship. In this article we offer retrospective, philosophical reflections on a South African university engagement project, “The Tributaries Project” (2019). These reflections aim to show that such academic engagement projects, formed as “higher education heterotopia” (a concept co-opted from a 1967 lecture by Michel Foucault) are favourable sites for the second aspect of higher education’s task; that is, to foster responsible citizenship among university staff, students and graduates in an era of complexity. Further, Edgar Morin’s “seven complex lessons” detail the essential elements of this task, and by extension heterotopic spaces, such as those configured by The Tributaries Project offer ideal conditions for the implementation of Morin’s insights. In Part One, we reflect on key theoretical assumptions underlying “The Tributaries Project”, via the lens of the concept “heterotopia”. Part Two is organised by Edgar Morin’s “seven complex lessons”, with brief indications of how these lessons were implemented via the project’s diverse activities. We hope that sharing insights gained from theorizing, creating and implementing this project may inspire similar projects.

Author Biographies

A.M. Hurst, Nelson Mandela University, Port Elizabeth, South Africa

Andrea Hurst is a Professor in Philosophy at Nelson Mandela University, Port Elizabeth, South Africa. She holds a PhD in Philosophy from Villanova University, Philadelphia, USA, 2006. This research was focused on bringing complexity-thinking in continental philosophy into contact with psychoanalytic theory, leading to the publication of a book entitled Derrida vis-á-vis Lacan: Interweaving Deconstruction and Psychoanalysis (New York: Fordham University Press, 2008). She has also published numerous journal articles and book chapters examining the interfaces between complexity-thinking, psychoanalytic theory (particularly a Lacanian model of subjectivity), and philosophy as a way of life in its many dimensions. She currently holds a South African Research Chair Initiative (SARChI) Chair in Identities and Social Cohesion in Africa, and is engaged in a research programme that fuses philosophical inquiry with practice-based knowing in the various arts.

B. Du Plooy, Nelson Mandela University, Port Elizabeth, South Africa

Engagement Office, Engagement and Transformation Division


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How to Cite
Hurst, A.M., and B. Du Plooy. 2021. “Higher Education in an Era of Complexity: "The Tributaries project" As a Higher Education Heterotopia”. South African Journal of Higher Education 35 (2), 73-92. https://doi.org/10.20853/35-2-3976.
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