Archive | Past events

Seminar led by Hans Pienaar

On Monday 16 April 2018, the journalist, author and playwright Hans Pienaar  led a seminar at JIAS on ‘Rugby  and original sin: an alternative history’. This was  the sixth in the 2018 JIAS Writing Fellows Seminar Series.


The sport of rugby has always had an attractive origin story, namely that a youngster called William Webb Ellis got so bored with kicking a ball around during a soccer game that he picked it up and ran with it across the field to the opponents’ goal post. This legend has been institutionalised as the William Webb Ellis Trophy, for which teams vie during the quadrennial World Cup. However, in recent years, an alternative history has revealed that rugby, and other forms of football, including modern soccer, is based on a ball game with roots as deep as Roman times, when carrying the ball was very much its basic movement. Another quirk is that rugby has by far the most rules of any sport, which makes it impossible for a side not to give away at least a dozen penalties during a match. This means that original sin lies at the basis of rugby which players cannot avoid committing, no matter how well they train or prepare, or how hard they pray.

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NTU conference in memory of Prof Ahmed Zewail

On 21-23 May 2018, NTU Singapore hosted a conference in memory of the Nobel Laureate Prof Ahmed Hassan Zewail.

It was jointly organised by the Institute of Advanced Studies at NTU and the Centre for Ultrafast Science and Technology at Shanghai Jiao Tong University, and was held at the Nanyang Executive Centre.

Prof Ahmed Hassan Zewail was an Egyptian-American scientist, known as the ‘father of femtochemistry’. He was awarded the 1999 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his work on femtochemistry, and became the first Egyptian to win a Nobel Prize in a scientific field. He was the Linus Pauling Chair Professor of Chemistry, Professor of Physics, and the director of the Physical Biology Center for Ultrafast Science and Technology at the California Institute of Technology. He died in Californa in 2016.

The organisers commented as follows:

‘Prof Zewail was one of the greatest scientists of our time, contributing not only to science, but also to society. He won the 1999 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his pioneering development of Femtochemistry, leading to revolutionary contributions in chemistry and adjacent sciences.

‘More recently, Prof Zewail made the groundbreaking invention of four-dimensional electron microscopy by integrating photons and electrons, thereby enabling the direct observation of fundamental changes in complex systems of materials and biology. These methods have opened up new frontiers and led to exciting new discoveries in physics, chemistry and biology, thus shaping our understanding of their complexity and dynamics.

‘At this conference, we will bring together world leaders from these fields to celebrate Prof Zewail’s contributions to science, discuss new cutting-edge research, and look into future challenges.’

For more information on the NTU website, click here.

For further enquiries, contact the Conference secretariat at

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Seminar led by Martijn van den Heuvel

On Tuesday 24 April 2018, Prof Martijn van den Heuvel of Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam led a seminar on ‘Principles of Wiring of the Human Connectome’ at the Adler Museum of Medicine, Wits Faculty of Health Sciences.

The seminar was hosted by the Wits Cortex Club. Prof Van Den Heuvel took part in the Colloquium on the Brain, held by JIAS in 2017.


‘Using network science as a general framework to study the network architecture of nervous system connectivity, more and more studies have highlighted that human and animal brains display features of an efficient communication network. In my talk, I will discuss potential general principles of wiring of connectome organization. These principles are conserved across species and are argued to play a fundamental role in nervous system functioning. I will highlight findings which show that connectomes display an efficient communication structure with pronounced community organization for specialized processing, together with global short communication relays and a central “rich club core”. I will discuss the evolutionary importance of the connectome, how the macroscale connectome may be related to the microanatomy of the brain, and how general themes of wiring may play a role in the aetiology of a wide range of psychiatric disorders.’

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Seminar led by Dr Melissa Tandiwe Myambo

On Wednesday 18 April 2018, Dr Melissa Tandiwe Myambo presented a seminar at the Centre for Indian Studies in Africa at Wits University on ‘Class, xenophobia and xenophilia: Migrant experience in Jo’burg’s diverse Cultural Time Zones’.

Dr Myambo is an Honorary Research Fellow of the Wits City Institute, a Visiting Researcher at the Centre for Indian Studies in Africa, and a past JIAS Writing Fellow. The seminar was held under the auspices of the Wits City Institute.


In 2008 and 2015, South Africa’s most deadly and violent xenophobic attacks erupted. Dozens of people were killed, and thousands displaced. The dominant storyline in the media and the academy cast the figure of the migrant as the perpetual victim of xenopohobia. There was not enough emphasis on nuancing that statement to indicate that it is not all migrants who run the risk of deadly xenophobia, even if xenophobia is pervasive at all levels of South African society. Deadly attacks only took place in specific microspaces, or Cultural Time Zones (CTZS). Those living in the CTZ of the informal settlement were most vulnerable. Few migrants who live and work in economically privileged CTZs like the suburbs became victims of violence.

In this presentation, I examine the relationship between (micro)space and migrant experience. Through an analysis of Jo’burg as a cluster of radically different CTZs where language, skin colour, race/ethnicity, education, socio-economic class, etc. function in different ways to impact the migrant experience, I try to uncover the nuanced reasons why working-class migrants who work and live in socio-economically deprived CTZs may experience intense xenophobia, while middle-class professionals, especially those from Western countries, often enjoy high levels of xenophilia.

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Pop-up seminar on land reform

On Thursday 12 April 2018, Dr Mbongiseni Buthelezi led a JIAS pop-up seminar on ‘Land reform in South Africa: some prospects and pitfalls’.

 About Mbongiseni Buthelezi

Dr Mbongiseni Buthelezi holds a PhD and MA in English and Comparative Literature from Columbia University, New York. He also holds an MA in English Studies (cum laude) from the University of KwaZulu-Natal, and a BA (Hon) in English and Drama (cum laude) from the University of Natal. Working in various academic and activist capacities, Mbongiseni has been interested in how the state interfaces with citizens in areas including land restitution, the role of traditional leaders in governance, and heritage and public archives.

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Seminar led by Amrita Shah

On Wednesday 11 April 2018, the journalist and author Amrita Shah led a seminar at JIAS titled ‘A personal journey into history’. This was the fifth in the 2018 JIAS Writing Fellows Seminar Series.


‘As a child growing up in India, I was fascinated by the knowledge that my great-grandfather had travelled to South Africa at the turn of the twentieth century. Why had he gone there? Who was the woman he met along the way, who gave birth to my grandmother? And did he know Gandhi? My search for answers to these questions have led me to archives across South Africa, Mauritius, the United Kingdom and India, and revealed to me an alternative view of the past.’

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John Rapley leads seminar on new book

On Thursday 5 April 2018, Dr John Rapley led a pop-up seminar at JIAS on his new book entitled Twilight of the Money Gods: Economics as a religion, and how it all went wrong.



Imagine one day you went to a cash-machine and found your money was gone. You rushed to your branch, where a teller said that overnight people had stopped believing in money, and it all vanished. Seem incredible? It happened, and it could happen again.

Although it calls itself a science, economics is really a belief system. As capitalism arose and the old order died, it explained a rapidly changing world, and gave us new moral codes for living. But today, ten years after a devastating financial crisis it largely failed to anticipate, and with economic growth in the West suddenly falling behind that of the developing world for the first time in two centuries, economics is struggling to explain a world that is changing beyond recognition.

So writes Dr John Rapley in his new book, Twilight of the Money Gods. In this pop-up seminar, John discussed the book and its implications for South Africa’s future.

About John Rapley

Dr John Rapley has made a vocation of working, and living, at the frontier where theory meets practice. After beginning his career at Oxford University’s International Development Centre, he left for the developing world, where he spent the next two decades working as an academic, journalist and ultimately the co-creator and director of a policy think tank. Along the way, he worked at universities on three continents and, upon returning to the UK, lectured at the University of Cambridge’s Centre of Development Studies. He now lives in London as a writer.


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Seminar led by David Huang

On Wednesday 4 April, Dr David Huang of NTU Singapore led a seminar at JIAS entitled ‘Preparation for Learning Transfer: A research agenda’. This was the fourth in the 2018 JIAS Writing Fellows Seminar Series.

ABSTRACT: Using the author’s research on analogical transfer and generative learning as the point of departure, this seminar shares a series of studies on learning and transfer and presents a research agenda for future inquiry. The purpose is to examine the design of pedagogical activities that better prepare students and school leaders for learning transfer.

The seminar covers three sections. The first section provides an overview on education policy and education research in Singapore. It underscores the value of research on learning transfer in the Singapore context.

The second section presents two studies that the author conducted in Singapore schools. One is a case study on how school leaders use analogies to learn about diffusion of pedagogical innovations. The study suggests a possibility for ‘less’ to create ‘more’ in conceptual change: analogues that have fewer degrees of similarity to innovation diffusion were found to be more helpful in inducing school leaders’ conceptual change in innovation diffusion. The other study uses experimental studies to investigate how preparatory tasks prepare students for learning transfer in algebra word problems. The study varied preparatory tasks in terms of generating analogies versus comparing given analogies as well as more versus less task complexity. The study delineates boundary conditions of Productive Failure. The knowledge-learning-instruction dependency revealed in this study supports the expertise reversal effects.

Learning from the past studies, the third section shares a research agenda for future inquiry. More specifically, it reviews the literature and seeks to understand how learning activities, such as generation, imitation, analogical comparison, and contrasting comparison lead to differentiated knowledge that influences transfer. It also seeks to understand how, bounded by neurocognitive constraints, integrating and sequencing the learning activities could interweave this knowledge and better prepare students for learning transfer. Conjectures and hypotheses are drawn from the literature review for future investigation.

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Talk on ‘Ahmedabad: A city in the world’

ON Thursday 22 March 2018, Amrita Shah, a 2018 JIAS Writing Fellow, gave a talk at the Centre for Indian Studies in Africa (CISA) at Wits University on ‘Ahmedabad: A city in the world’.

At a time when India is moving towards a capitalist economy with the urban as its framework, Ahmedabad, the country’s fifth largest city, showcases the experience of a highly entrepreneurial society in one of India’s longest surviving cities.

Founded in 1411 by Ahmed Shah of the Gujarat Sultanate, Ahmedabad has been a trading post and manufacturing centre for cotton textiles, a base for Gandhi after his return from South Africa in 1915, and a site of endemic communal as well as other forms of mass violence in the post-independence era.

The early decades of the present century have seen the city emerge as a showpiece of the socio-economic and majoritarian vision known as the ‘Gujarat model’, which catapulted Narendra Modi to the prime ministership in 2014. An exploration of this complex and fascinating city reveals the processes underpinning the ethos of contemporary India.

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Seminar on scholarship and freedom

On Tuesday 13 March 2018, Geoffrey Galt Harpham of the Kenan Institute for Ethics at Duke University presented a seminar at JIAS on ‘Scholarship and Freedom’, jointly hosted by JIAS and the Ali Mazrui Centre for Higher Education Studies at UJ.


All over the world, universities and academic work generally are being placed under pressure by governments, by the constant increase in corporate sponsored research, and often by hostile public opinion. Is scholarship really value-neutral, or does it contain an implicit set of values, even a politics or an ideology, that might conflict with others?
Geoffrey Galt Harpham is a Senior Fellow of the Kenan Institute for Ethics at Duke University. He previously served as director of the National Humanities Center (2002-2015), and taught at Tulane University, Brandeis University, and the University of Pennsylvania.

A specialist in literary theory, linguistics, and the history of criticism, he is the author of nearly one hundred scholarly articles and ten books, most recently The Humanities and the Dream of America, and What Do You Think, Mr. Ramirez?: The American Revolution in Education.

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