[COVID–19] (Re)configurations of violent knowledge management, epistemic inferiorization and neo-colonial divisions

by Sayan Dey

In the following, I will argue how COVID-19 is re-configuring the already existing neo-colonial patterns of knowledge production and management in India.

As the pandemic of COVID-19 is quarantining and rampaging each and every aspect of habitual existence across the globe, the global education system (especially higher educational institutions like colleges and universities) is experiencing a monumental shift by converting the physically structured classroom system into an online one.

Apart from the educational institutions, several databases like JSTOR, Cambridge University Press, Project Muse, etc. have selectively waived subscription charges on several books and journals and have made them available for free to individuals located in any part of the world.

Doubtlessly, in a very short span of time, this has digitally revolutionized and diversified  teaching-learning systems. Several individuals have strongly recommended this as a permanent solution of knowledge management during such situations of unexpected crisis. In an article in The Conversation, Carlo Perrotta argues that:

The importance of distance education in an increasingly uncertain world of global epidemics and other dramatic disruptions (such as wars and climate-related crises) is without doubt. So-called “developing countries” (including large rural regions in the booming Indian and Chinese economies) can benefit greatly from it, as it can help overcome emergencies and address chronic teacher shortages.

Lisa Stiffler writes in GeekWire that in the United States, “Higher-ed is better positioned for the move as many colleges and universities have over the years offering instruction online to complement existing courses or as distance learning.” Several institutions across China, India and different parts of the globe, through rapid digitization of their teaching-learning procedures, are proudly advertising about their world-class infrastructures.

But, in the process of these self-centered profit-making motives, the cognitive empire of metacoloniality is able to hide its violent and dehumanizing systems of knowledge management quite successfully, as Professor Sabelo J. Ndlovu-Gatsheni already discusses in the 2019 Hormuud Lecture.

Digitization of teaching-learning systems: Re-configuring epistemic neo-colonization

No matter how this digital revolution has diversified the system of knowledge production and management on the one side, when I turn my attention towards countries like India it functions as a ‘seductive mirage of epistemic inclusivity’ on the other. This seductive mirage is “sold as a package trip to the promised land of happiness, a paradise” in which the already existing colonial patterns of violent knowledge management, epistemic inferiorization and neo-colonial divisions are re-configured in the form of digital divide.

In India, statistical records reveal the high digital divide that exists between the rural areas and the urban areas. The Internet in India 2017 report reveals that only 20.26 percent of the total rural population have access to internet, while 64.83 percent of the urban population are connected to internet. Since 2017, as stated in the ICUBE Digital Adoption and Usage Trends report, India’s internet base crossed the 500 million mark, driven by Rural India, where “293 million active internet users reside in Urban India” and “200 million active users in Rural India.”

But, one cannot deny the still existing digital divide that the country suffers from. Therefore, the celebration of inclusivity of knowledge management and production that is going across the globe today is highly questionable. It is only pushing countries like India, who have a limited infrastructure to embrace this sudden spurt of digitization, into a massive state of digital hysteria and epistemic crisis.

The celebration of the online teaching-learning resources through various media platforms across the West are systematically manufacturing narratives of colonial/Euro-American-centric narratives of epistemic superiority. Through these narratives, the western and westernized institutions are consistently trying to justify that the cognitive metaphysical colonial empire should be preserved by imbibing colonial/western systems of knowledge management.

The important questions we need to address

Just a few days back, I was talking to a friend of mine whose daughter studies in an esteemed international school (with a western-modelled infrastructure) in Mumbai and he was sharing that how within no time the school has shifted to the digital mode of teaching. He was also reasoning why all the schools in India should follow a similar pattern to improve their infrastructural systems of knowledge management.

But, how? The question remains unanswered. Western modelling of local knowledge management systems only widens the already prevailing social, cultural, political, economic and epistemic gaps in a society. Currently, due to COVID-19, apart from such international schools, most of the schools have been shut down in India due to basic infrastructural crisis. Either the educational institutions are lacking basic amenities like laptops, desktops and internet connections, or even if they are equipped with these facilities, then there is an issue of poor internet connection and/or the tutors are unaware of its usage.

So, before we celebrate this rapid process of digitization as a phenomenon of global inclusivity, it is important for us to address these questions:

  • Who are its beneficiaries?
  • Is it really inclusive, or, under the mask of inclusivity, is it only preserving the neocolonial hierarchies of knowledge management in the present era?

This article first appeared on RealKM Magazine. We kindly thank for the permission to re-publish. In attempting to bridge the gap between knowledge management and evidence based practice, RealKM is offering findings of high-value knowledge management research through concise, practically-oriented articles. Since its establishment in 2015, RealKM Magazine has sought to position itself within the international knowledge managment landscape, with the intention of becoming a key go-to resource for practitioners, managers and leaders of organisations.

Sayan Dey is currently working as Lecturer, Yonphula Centenary College, Royal University of Bhutan. As a contributor and editor, his publications appear in different edited books, journals, blogs and tabloids. Sayan is also a member of the Convivial Thinking Collective.

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