Mon – Fri: 9:00 – 16:00
+27 (0)21 201 1150

Silo 5, 2nd Floor, Silo District,
V&A Waterfront, Cape Town

Unlocking the World of Ideas: the fun of critical thinking in Contextual Studies

by 10 Apr 2024Education

Hello intrepid scholar!

 You’ve landed on this humble little blog post about one of the coolest subjects you will ever take: Contextual Studies. CS is the vibrant and intellectually stimulating theoretical backbone of all the degrees offered at Cape Town Creative Academy. It is a subject that adds depth and meaning to our exploration not only of our practice but of our shared world. At times it’s challenging, at times it’s frustrating, but it is always a vibe. 

 Now, before you start picturing boring lectures, dusty textbooks, and lecturers older than your parents, let me assure you that CS (and our CS team) is anything but boring. It’s a whirlwind adventure through art, film, advertising, music videos, philosophy, modernism, postmodernism, Black studies, Marxism, gender studies, and so much more!

Think of it as a kind of all-in-one elective package

If you’ve ever been to a public university, or if you’ve spoken to someone at one, you’ll know that in the humanities degrees you get to choose your own adventure – you can do English, Philosophy, History, Art History and so on. Now imagine if you could blend all the dopest electives from big universities into one comprehensive subject – that’s Contextual Studies! Whether you’re a cinephile, or an art connoisseur, or both (or neither!), a game enthusiast or a fashionista, this subject seamlessly weaves together diverse topics, offering you a front-row seat to the interconnected web of ideas that have shaped and continue to shape our cultures and our world.

 Here are a few short examples of the kinds of stuff we dig into:

CS100: From Modernism to Postmodernism

Riding the waves of mind-altering ideas is what we tackle in the first year of CS. From learning how we read visual images, to interpreting their meanings, CS100 will forever change how you think, see, feel and create. Amongst other things, CS unveils the secrets of modernism and postmodernism, taking you on a journey through the evolution of artistic expression, not only in paintings, but architecture, photography, film, music, celebrity culture, memes… you name it! CS100 brings critical thinking into the realm of pop culture, encouraging you to dissect and analyse the ideas and images that permeate our everyday lives.

CS200: Unveiling Power Structures

Throughout the second year of CS we expand upon how, in a world where everything seems interconnected, understanding power structures is crucial. CS200 introduces you to the separate but interrelated fields of Marxism, Gender Studies, Black Studies and Psychoanalysis, giving you a solid foundation to not only critique the world around you, but to critique your own contributions to the visual regime. We unpack and decipher the hidden layers of society, economics, and culture, and uncover the narratives that shape our world and explore how visual cultural products reflect and challenge existing power dynamics.

 By understanding how our notions of who we are are built, CS200 invites you to challenge stereotypes and redefine narratives, empowering you to interrogate existing power dynamics and fully probe the multifaceted aspects of identity and representation in visual culture which encompasses everything from television shows and films, to art and advertising and anything else in between.

CS300: Where Deep Thoughts Collide with Everyday Life

In third year we begin to really challenge how you think you think about the world (spoiler alert: the way you think you think isn’t actually how to think), and we open you up to reflecting on things that you’ve probably never considered (indeed, most of CS is like that!). We cover three interesting fields of inquiry under the snazzy titles of Datafied Ecologies, Language and Power: a Genealogy of Discourse, and Being/Becoming: A Genealogy of How We Might Live. In the first section we cover a wide range of topics including problematising the concept of home in the era of environmental crises, the New Climate Regime and the attendant questions of politics and power, and some cool stuff on cybernetics and cyberculture (yer a cyborg, Harry). In the second section we explode notions of what it means to mean something when we destabalise the primacy of language in our contemporary culture. But, we don’t only interrogate language and meaning: we also dip into the concept of the posthuman, biopolitics, and surveillance in the modern world. In the final section of CS we take a stroll – or, rather, a brisk jog – through existential philosophy and the issues of morality and ethics. Don’t believe what you see in the movies, though. It’s not just Nietzche (but he shows up often, the little frippet) – we look at ethics and morality from a variety of perspectives and socio-cultural and historical periods. We like to call it from Plato to Present but we don’t do all the boring mediaeval stuff: I’m talking cyborgs, drones, AI, and self-driving cars. It’s giving Fourth Industrial Revolution.

Beyond the Classroom – Applying Knowledge to the Real World

But the real value of CS lies in the real-world applications of these critical subjects. The World Economic Forum has for years listed critical thinking skills as the most important skills to have going forward, and that’s what we are doing here. As you tackle the complexities of the world around you, you’ll find yourself equipped with a unique set of critical, conceptual, and analytical skills that can be applied to diverse fields. We create graduates like no other, and have consistently produced students with some of the best critical thinking skills that tertiary education can (no lies – we have been told this by lots of those fancy academic types). No matter your major, minor, or just your general interests, CS opens doors to a myriad topics.

Contextual Studies is not just a subject: it’s a lifestyle. It’s a passport to understanding the world through the lens of creativity, culture, and ideas. Embrace the diversity of thought, challenge your perspectives, and enjoy the ride.

Some testimonials you may want to use:

“CS dispels every illusion you’ve ever lived under”. Carlos Come (class of 2021)

“CS helped me to read the world and people deeper. It makes you see and feel more”. Britney van Loggerenberg (class of 2021)

“CS equipped me with this mindset that’s all about challenging the norm and taking a critical look at the world, and delving deeper into questioning almost everything. I LOVED CS!” Devon Broughton (class of 2023)

Desré Barnard

Desré Barnard

Contextual Studies Lecturer

Desré is an experienced academic, with a critical and inquisitive mind. They contribute to Contextual Studies on the first, second and third-year level in subject matter ranging from African Modernism, Post-Marxist Theory, Gender Studies, Psychoanalysis and Philosophy. Their passion for theory and critique inspires students to think deeply about the curiosities of contemporary culture as we progress further into the next phase of the world

Larita Engelbrecht

Larita Engelbrecht

Contextual Studies Lecturer

Larita is an academic with a special interest in contemporary art, cultural studies and critical theory. She teaches Contextual Studies on first and third-year levels in courses covering Semiotic Theory, Modernism, Postmodernism, Digital Culture and Environmental Humanities. Her attentiveness to the complexities of visual culture motivates students to become curious cultural practitioners. In addition to teaching, Larita is also a practising visual artist specialing in painting and collage. Her work has been included in a number of group exhibitions locally and abroad.

More from our Blog

We use third-party cookies in order to improve your browsing experience.
Learn more