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Rhodes > ISER > About


The Institute of Social and Economic Research (ISER) was established in Rhodes University in 1954. Strongly grounded in the Eastern Cape since its inception, the ISER soon developed a diverse portfolio of research initiatives involving its own staff and staff members of other Rhodes academic departments. Throughout its existence, engagement by academics from a range of departments within the university in the work of the ISER contributed not only to the content and quality of ISER’s research work, but also enriched teaching within those academics’ home departments.

Scholars associated with the ISER in the early period of its establishment produced a series of scholarly volumes comprising the Keiskammahoek Rural Survey (1947–1952) and the Border Regional Survey (1956–1964) amongst others. Although the former documented changes in Keiskammahoek since the establishment of the apartheid regime in 1948, the ISER, in its early years, generally did not engage with the consequences of apartheid for the well-being of the black majority, and did not challenge the status quo of repressive, white minority rule. This approach gradually changed in later years, when the ISER came to engage more actively with the social conditions and development problems of the Eastern Cape through empirical research and public policy engagement.

Under Prof Peter Vale’s Directorship from 1984, the ISER’s research agenda directly and indirectly exposed the consequences of the apartheid political economy on the black inhabitants of the Eastern Cape. The ISER developed a research specialisation on well-being studies under Professor Valarie Møller, a leading internationally recognised scholar in the field and Director of the ISER between 1998 and 2006. From 2006 to 2010, the ISER was led by Professor Greg Ruiters, who introduced a vibrant, large-scale programme of research rooted in concerns of political economy and municipal service provision in the Eastern Cape. Prof Ruiters also introduced an annual ISER Winter School, which drew together community-based organisations and leading academics into in-depth discussions on topical social, developmental and political concerns for the province and the country. 

In 2009, the ISER started developing Social Policy as a core research and teaching focus area, joined, in late 2012, by labour studies. Led by Prof Robert van Niekerk, the Social Policy focus area developed into a number of collaborative research programmes including programmes on health, social policy and the developmental role of the state and social citizenship. The Social Policy focus area was strengthened by the appointment of Prof Rebecca Surender in 2014 until her departure in 2015. Work on Social Policy as a distinct focus area was discontinued in mid-2018. 

The establishment of the Neil Aggett Labour Studies Unit (NALSU)  in 2012 under the leadership of Dr John Reynolds has laid the foundation for the development of a vibrant programme of engaged scholarship. NALSU functions as a hub for labour studies at Rhodes University, with a dedicated and mutually supportive team consisting of core staff, associates and postgraduate students. More information on NALSU can be found here.

The ISER has had an abiding influence on a number of institutions within Rhodes University and the wider Eastern Cape. In 1979, the International Library of African Music was moved to Rhodes University under the auspices of the ISER, where it was hosted until its incorporation into the Rhodes Department of Music and Musicology in the mid-nineties. Also in 1979, a Development Studies Unit, headed by a Chair in Development Studies, was started; that unit was discontinued in 1994, when Prof Bill Davies joined the new Eastern Cape Provincial Government, where he built an economic planning and research unit in the Department of Economic Affairs, Environment and Tourism. An International Studies Unit was established in the ISER in 1988 and, in 1992, was migrated to the Rhodes Department of Political Studies, into which it was fully incorporated in the early 2000s, changing the name of the department to the Department of Political and International Studies. In 2003, the East London branch of the ISER was incorporated into the University of Fort Hare as the Fort Hare Institute of Social and Economic Research (FHISER).

ISER Governance

The Institute of Social and Economic Research (ISER) is governed by a Board that is a Standing Committee of the Rhodes University Senate, and the Director of the ISER is a member of Senate. The ISER Board is chaired by the Dean of Humanities of Rhodes University, and its other members include the Dean of Commerce, the Director of the ISER, two scholars appointed by the Rhodes University Senate, and two scholars nominated by the ISER. The following people are members of the ISER Board:

  • Prof Tom Martin, Dean of Humanities (Chair) 
  • Prof David Sewry, Dean of Commerce (or his nominee) 
  • Director of the ISER
  • Prof Lucien van der Walt, Senate Appointment 
  • [To be nominated], Senate Appointment
  • Prof Edward Webster, ISER Nominee
  • Prof Yusuf Sayed, ISER Nominee 

In addition, the folowing ISER staff members serve as non-voting members:

  • Dr John Reynolds, Head of Neil Aggett Labour Studies Unit (NALSU)
  • Prof Michael Rogan, Associate Professor, (NALSU)



Last Modified: Tue, 31 Jul 2018 15:31:26 SAST