Picture: Leon Lestrade/African News Agency (ANA) Archives
Picture: Leon Lestrade/African News Agency (ANA) Archives

UCT distances itself from study on slavery, intelligence

By Lisa Isaacs and Nicola Daniels Time of article published May 14, 2019

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UCT has distanced itself from a study involving an adjunct-professor at its Graduate School of Business that examines the relationship between slave exports and intelligence. 

The study, featured in the March Journal of Interdisciplinary Economics, is titled “Intelligence and Slave Exports from Africa” and investigates the link between cognitive ability in terms of intelligence and slave export intensity. 

The authors wanted to test the hypothesis that countries which were endowed with higher levels of cognitive ability were more likely to experience lower levels of slave exports from Africa, probably due to comparatively better capacities to organise, co-operate, oversee and confront slave traders. 

They found in part that “the reasoning-orientation and problem-solving inclination underlying the IQ can be leveraged to avoid capture during the slave trade” and “it is conceivable that African cognitive ability led to slave exports”. 

This study comes hot on the heels of a controversial Stellenbosch University article about “coloured women” which received criticism and was called out for being racist after it tried to explore a link between cognitive ability and race. 

Black Academic Caucus member Professor Adam Haupt said: “This article is much like the Stellenbosch University article about ‘coloured women’. The key premise relies on the flawed belief that race is a stable, natural scientific category and that it is not socially and politically constructed that serves very narrow economic and ideological ends. 

“The hypothesis and research methodology make the flawed assumption that one can make general claims about IQ, cognitive ability or intelligence – in this case, about entire countries. It produces the effect of victim blaming and pathologises Africans, instead of interrogating the actual causes of racialised exploitation during the Atlantic slave trade.” Haupt said the title alone dehumanised people by labelling enslaved humans as “slavery exports”. 

“The research project points to the need for humanities scholarship's critical interrogation of scientific racism, research ethics and methodologies in academic projects across disciplines. Specifically, it points to the value of sound historical research that accounts for the development of what decolonial scholars call colonial modernity,” he added.  

Meanwhile UCT said they would be investigating the study.

“The director of the Graduate School of Business and the Centre for Development Finance are investigating this study and its findings at the request of the acting vice-chancellor,” UCT spokesperson Elijah Moholola said. 

“We are investigating the relationship of the author to the GSB and its work, as the author is an adjunct-professor and the study was co-authored with the University of Kinshasa. The school will report back urgently to the acting vice-chancellor.

“As the university has not had an opportunity to fully investigate this study we cannot comment fully, but any research based on or proposing racial stereotypes is contradictory to UCT’s academic values and standards of scholarship. It is in opposition to our commitment to academic excellence and an inclusive community.” 


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