Welcome and introduction to Professor Cheryl de la Rey


‎Good evening everybody.

-          Our distinguished guest, Professor Cheryl de la Rey
-          Vice-chancellor, Dr Badat,
-          Deputy vice-chancellors, Dr Mabizela and Dr Clayton,
-          Dean of Humanities, Professor Hendricks,
-          Deputy Dean of Humanities, Professor Boswell
-          staff and students of the Psychology Department and of our fellow departments
-          and members of the public,

All of you are very welcome to our 5th annual Social Change Award evening. This event was instituted in 2008, and the idea was to identify psychologists who had made and are making important contributions to social change in South Africa. This year, I am very pleased to introduce to you Professor Cheryl de la Rey. We are indeed honoured to have her with us this evening to accept this award.

There isn’t time for me to detail Professor de la Rey’s many achievements, both within and outside of psychology, but for those who don’t know I can say very briefly that Professor de la Rey is a psychologist, who spent many years in psychology academia before becoming Vice Chancellor and Principal of the University of Pretoria in 2009, a post she currently holds.

In that time, her work has spanned a number of areas, such as: 

-          The whole question of what it means for psychology to be “relevant” (which I will come back to in a minute)

-          Gender issues in psychology and peace, as well as the gendered nature of organisational hierarchies

-          Peace-building

-          Reconciliation in conflict-ridden societies

-          And she is contributing to the development of the national education environment, underpinned by her belief that, and I quote: “Scholarship is about empowerment” (de la Rey, 2010, p. xi)

In thinking about the contributions Professor de la Rey has made to social change, there are many things I could refer to. But I’d like to talk about this through a constructionist lens. There is this horrific term in some of the constructionist literature that I will invoke here: the idea of “bringing forth” or “bring forthism”. This awkward term refers to something very important: the activity of bringing forth, making real, making practicable, something that did not exist before, or which was previously only on the margins of our experience. As a constructionist, I appreciate the questions posed by Professor de la Rey in her many works, because they “bring forth” worlds of possibility; but they do so without dictating what those worlds should look like. This, I think, is in keeping with her commitment to dialogue and collaboration.

So I think one could argue that Professor de la Rey is, with apologies, a “bring forthist”. She has brought forth new areas of questioning for research as well as for practice, which open up new territories to be explored. In this regard, there are two trends that have really struck me about her work. 

First, I have noticed a tendency for her to not so much tell us the answers or the solutions, but to raise a lot of questions. Questions informed by scholarship, fuelled by curiosity, but tempered with a dialogical ethos, are a powerful way of bringing forth new ways of thinking and being. For example, in a 2004 paper on the “relevance of psychology ten years into democracy”, she, along with a colleague, asks the following questions:

-        “Is South African psychology innovative and dynamic?” Implied in this question is the challenge to develop a relevant, South African

psychology, which isn’t merely a reproduction of the psychologies promoted in European and North American universities and practice settings.

-        She also raises the question of the time lag between our research and knowledge production activities on the one hand, and their social

impact on the other. How should we think about this time lag? This is a questioning of whether or not it is realistic, and whether we should be rushing, to produce research of immediate social relevance. 

-        And with her colleague, she also asks: “Is it Is it appropriate to debate questions of relevance only in relation to national context or does a

rapidly changing world demand that we begin to examine relevance in relation to our location in Africa and our positioning in the global socio-political context?” (De la rey & Ipser, 2004, p. 550) When we talk about a relevant psychology, should we be thinking beyond the boundaries of our own country? And how do we do so in a way that still honours the diverse experiences of people dealing with equally diverse problems within our borders?

My point here is that Professor de la Rey has contributed to “bringing forth” fields of inquiry, which in turn help – I think – to keep our psychology innovative and dynamic. It’s noteworthy that in another work – on structural asymmetries and peace - Professor de la Rey makes a comment that I think is appropriate here: “I raise these questions not to produce answers, but to draw attention” (2000, p. 217) to things. Questions posed in this way promote searching, engagement, and dialogue.

The second thing I have appreciated in her works is that they seem to carry within them an overarching sense of ‘perspective’, making us pull our heads out of the waters we’re swimming in so that we can ask the question: Where are we going? Where should we be going? For example, in discussing leadership and its relationship with gender, she asks what kinds of leadership we need. She suggests, in dialogical spirit, that we might need to consider a socially distributed leadership; “one that is distributed throughout communities” (de la Rey, 2005, p. 10). And of course, in psychology, she contributed significantly to the thickening of this very question: In post-apartheid psychology, where are we going?

And now, in her position as Vice Chancellor and Principal of the University of Pretoria, Professor de la Rey works with the challenges of this question on a very large scale, and in a way which goes beyond its academic aspects. She has pointed out that transformation in education, and specifically in the university setting, includes, but is not only about having equitable profiles of student and staff numbers in terms of race and gender. It also involves many other challenges, such as reflecting on and developing language policies, rethinking and developing leadership, and so on. These matters are close to our own hearts here. Remember, we are a university striving to live up to our claim that this is “where leaders learn”.

 I think the ability to face, head-on, this kind of question - where are we going? - in such a hands on, academic as well as practical way, while not forgetting the nitty gritty of ordinary human experience, is the hallmark of a great leader. I can say from my own experience, as one who is relatively new to the demands of leadership in my post as HoD, that balancing these two things – the broad vision of finding organisational direction in as collaborative a way as possible, while simultaneously paying attention to the experiences of individuals – is a very challenging task indeed.

 Professor de la Rey is a leader who shares some academic, psychological roots with us. She is a leader of whom we psychologists can be proud.

I’m sure she will be raising further questions for us tonight, in her talk entitled “Psychology: private-public good”.

Please join me in warmly welcoming Professor Cheryl de la Rey to Rhodes University.


de la Rey, C. (2000). Structural asymmetries and peace: Hope or despair? Peace and conflict: Journal of Peace Psychology, 6 (3), 217-222.

de la Rey, C. (2005). Gender, women and leadership. Agenda 65, 4-11.

de la Rey, C. (2010). Introduction. In S. Ngobeni (Ed.). Scholarly publishing in Africa: Opportunities and impediments. Africa Institute of South Africa: Pretoria.

de la Rey, C. & Ipser, J. (2004). The call for relevance: South African psychology ten years into democracy. South African Journal of Psychology, 34 (4), 544-552.

Read the speech given by Professor Cheryl de la Rey here

Last Modified: Thu, 15 Aug 2013 14:48:22 SAST