Decolonization: not just a buzzword…

by Budd L Hall

This is the name of a ‘headphone verbatim show’ capturing campus conversations at London’s School of Oriental and African Studies.  It will be the third interaction with discourses of decolonisation and epistemic justice that I will have within two weeks. The first interaction was with Florence Piron, a scholar of epistemic justice at Laval University.  I spent three days with her and her colleagues in Quebec City, Quebec. She shared with me the special issue of the journal Sociologie et Societes on epistemic injustice edited by Baptise Godrie and Marie Dos Santos of the University of Montreal. In that journal she shares an article, Haitian Meditation where she recounts a visit to Haiti to teach about epistemic justice (2017). She reminds us of the words of Frantz Fanon written in 1992, speaking about the dominance of European thought in the colonial world, “my friends, the European game is definitely over…if we want to see humanity advance, for Africa and for the world, we need to invent and discover a new way of thinking”.

She goes on to write of the violence of positivist epistemology, a violence of hegemony and exclusion of peoples, a violence of neoliberalism, a violence of indifference and a violence of a separatist epistemology. She writes of an ‘epistemology of place’ (epistemologie du lien) which is a spiritual companion of Dos Santos’, ‘epistemology of the global South’.

My second interaction took place at Birkbeck College, London thanks to a session on ‘Decolonising the curriculum: what’s all the fuss about?’ organised by the Decolonising the curriculum working group at Birkbeck. Speakers included Kerry Harman, Jan Eitenne and William Ackah of Birkbeck, Gurminder Bhambra from U of Sussex and Meera Sabaratnam of SOAS, London. Each of these speakers are engaged in both the intellectual work and the hard practical work in transforming their spaces within universities in decolonial ways. William Ackah draws on the poetry of Audre Lorde, the fiction of Ralph Ellison and the lyrics of Bob Marley to speak of the ‘Ambush in the night’ that is the domination of white Eurocentric knowledge with a majority world of black and brown people. The contemporary university curriculum is, according to Ackah, ‘affirmative action for the white middle class’. Gurminder Bhambra notes that contemporary university curricula is producing racial inequality.  She reminds us that ‘modernity is not only a European phenomena’. Gurminder is the co-editor of Decolonising the University (2018). Meera Sabaratnam, a member of the Senate at SOAS as well a member of the SOAS Decolonising the University Working Group shares ideas from her current praxis: that teaching differently (in a decolonising manner) is hard work, that we need to understand teaching as a practice of critical pedagogy, that we need to show that anti-racist pedagogy is good teaching and that you have to make demands.

Meera makes another point that, ‘decolonialisation is always a contextualized within place, history and context’. For myself and others living and working in Western Canada, our focus will prioritize the Indigenisation of our curricula, but within a larger decolonial framework. The decolonial project in Uganda will take on a validation of African Indigenous knowledge as a priority project of decolonisation. Similarly the decolonisation of universities in Malaysia, Indonesia, Colombia, Sardinia will have distinct intellectual trajectories.  And we are reminded that the theories and practices of community-based participatory research with their focus on an epistemology of place have a significant role to play in the extraordinary project of decolonising our universities. Knowledge democracy calls for decolonisation of institutions of higher education, the end to epistemic violence and the practices of epistemologies of place.

Budd Hall lives and works on Lekwugen First Nations territory in what is called Victoria, British Columbia these days. He has been working on issues of knowledge, power and social justice since the early 1970s during his time in Tanzania. He currently shares a UNESCO Chair in Community-Based Research and Social Responsibility in Higher Education with his colleague Rajesh Tandon, the founding President of PRIA in New Delhi, India. He is actively engaged on issues of decolonising knowledge and higher education. Budd can be found on Twitter at @buddhall

Originally published on the blog of the UNESCO Chair of Community Based Research and Social Responsibility in Higher Education


Gurminder K. BhambraDalia GebrialKerem Nişancıoğlu, eds (2018) Decolonising the University London: Pluto 272 pages

Piron, Florence (2017) “Meditation haitienne: Repondre a la violence separatrices de l’epistemologie positiviste par l’epistemologie du lien” in Sociologie et Societes vol xlix, No 1, Printemps 2017 pp 33-60



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