In 1887 Woodrow Wilson captured the challenge of public administration when he wrote, “It is getting to be harder to run a constitution than to frame one.” While he was referencing the United States, the concept is not bounded geographically or by any one form of government. What prevails is that the role of public administration is as dynamic as the political and institutional landscapes in which it resides. Subsequently, public administrators face ongoing questions on the meaning and function of their job within differing worldviews and images of government. This means having to decide on ways to implement laws, policies, and programs within situational conditions that are sometimes routine, stable, and predictable and at other times fragmented, distorted, and unique. Thus, public administrators are never too far removed from the fundamental question of how administration should come to know and understand society when having to make difficult choices. Knowledge, after all, is a sine qua non to running a government. While the answer to this question often conjures up a methodological response, a deeper analysis suggests fundamental differences at play in terms of how knowledge, and subsequently reality, is formed. Constructivism is centered on the idea that all knowledge is subjective and socially constructed. So much so that even the hallmark of science—objectivity—cannot escape social construction, which makes absolute scientific understanding impossible. Therefore, constructivism rests on the premise that objectivity is never possible because there is no way to get fully outside of the experiences that preshape and prestructure what can be seen, thought, and analyzed. Language itself is a preconstructed way to communicate, and while simple words like dog and cat may have agreed-upon generalities, they have highly individualized meanings. This is not unlike scientific facts, such as gravity. Science can define gravity in general terms, but individuals experience it in their own way. To the constructivist, scientific facts are no more than the facts that matter and make situational sense at that moment. The meaning of facts can change along with the situational conditions as new understandings emerge or, like the pragmatist, until something better comes along to more fully explain a phenomenon. This creates a challenge for public administrators, who find themselves having to contend with varied situational interpretations emanating from preexisting experiences within a socially constructed world muddled with implicit bias, prejudices, and prejudgments. The profession is fraught with impeding political expectations, institutional and constitutional constraints, and unreconcilable public interests. Administrators are supposed to know what to do and how to do it. They are expected to be experts, but what justifies expertise in a socially constructed world if not knowledge and knowing? What constitutes knowledge is, therefore, a central concern to the profession and is always in question. Constructivism is a broad field that can be traced through pragmatism (knowledge as practical application), phenomenology (knowledge as experienced and situated), postmodernity (knowledge as power), and most recently transdisciplinarity (knowledge that transcends disciplinary frameworks). Within each of these, knowledge is hermeneutically refined. Scholars within public administration tend to adhere to particular schools of thought that often contrast constructivism and positivism as dichotomous modes of inquiry. This point of departure is not trivial, as it routinely presents a quandary on what basis to use when making effective decisions, shaping policy, understanding organizational goals, and implementing programs. These are ongoing challenges within public administration that remain unsettled. As a result, public administration is often referred to as a non- or preparadigmatic disintegrated field of study from which constructivism is as much contested as it is influential in shaping the meaning of the work and research.
Nicholas C. Zingale
Sabelo J. Ndlovu-Gatsheni
The concept of the African Renaissance was popularized by Cheikh Anta Diop in the mid-1940s. But in 1906 Pixley ka Isaka Seme had introduced the idea of “regeneration” of Africa, while in 1937 Nnamdi Azikiwe of Nigeria had engaged with the idea of a “renascent Africa,” both of which formed a strong background to the unfolding of the idea of African Renaissance. President Thabo Mbeki of South Africa made it the hallmark of his continental politics in the 1990s. Consequently, in 1998 South Africa became a host to an international conference on the African Renaissance and by October 11, 1999, Mbeki officially opened the African Renaissance Institute in Pretoria in South Africa. Scholars such as Ngugi wa Thiong’o picked up the theme and defined the African Renaissance as a “re-membering” of a continent and a people who have suffered from “dismembering” effects of colonialism and “coloniality.” “Coloniality” names the underside of Euro-North American-centric modernity, which enabled mercantilism accompanied by the enslavement of African people. The reduction of African people into tradable commodities (thingification and dehumanization) and their shipment as cargo across the Transatlantic Ocean formed the root cause of the underdevelopment of Africa. The rise of a capitalist world economic system involved the forcible integration of Africa into the evolving nexus of a structurally asymmetrical world system with its shifting global orders. The physical colonial conquest was accompanied by genocides (physical liquidation of colonized people), epistemicides (subjugation of indigenous knowledges), linguicides (displacement of indigenous African languages and imposition of colonial languages), culturecides (physical separation of African people from their gods and cultures and the imposition of foreign religions and cultures), alienations (exiling African people from their languages, cultures, knowledges, and even from themselves), as well as material dispossessions. The African Renaissance emerged as an anti-colonial phenomenon opposed to colonialism and coloniality. As a vision of the future, the African Renaissance encapsulated a wide range of African initiatives such as Ethiopianism, Garveyism, Negritude, pan-Africanism, African nationalism, African humanism, African socialism, Black Consciousness Movement (BCM), the demands for a New International Economic Order (NIEO), the various African economic blueprints including the Lagos Plan of Action (LPA) and New Partnership for African Development (NEPAD) as well as the regional integration economic formations such as the Economic Community of West African Countries (ECOWAS) and the Southern Africa Economic Development Community (SADC), among many others. These liberatory initiatives have been framed by five waves of popular African movements/protests, namely: (a) the decolonization struggles of the 20th century that delivered “political decolonization”; (b) the struggles for economic decolonization that crystallized around the demands for NIEO; (c) the third wave of liberation of the 1980s and 1990s that deployed neoliberal democratic thought and discourses of human rights to fight against single-party and military dictatorships as well imposed austerity measures such as structural adjustment programs (SAPs); (d) the Afro-Arab Spring that commenced in 2011 in North Africa, leading to the fall some of the long-standing dictatorial regimes in Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya; and finally (e) the Rhodes Must Fall (RMF) movements (Fallism discourse of liberation) that emerged in 2015 in South Africa, pushing forward the unfinished business of epistemological decolonization.