This is the transcript of Lata’s spoken word contribution. You can listen to it, or read on.
Tackling the question of whose ideas count is central to efforts to decolonise knowledge. Participatory methodologies then are, at least in theory, one way to address concerns that some ideas and the people with whom they are associated, might matter more than others. So widening participation to include more diverse people and views makes intuitive sense. The hope is that this will lead, at least partially, to counting the knowledge and ideas of more people. Surely, this is a good thing. In my short piece here, I’d like to unpack a participatory research process to consider not just which ideas count, but who gets to express them and how they need to express those ideas in order for them to be counted.
Before I share some observations on how I feel ‘decolonising’ is coopted in academia, I want to start by situating the position from which I am arguing. I am a white, well-educated, middle-class, able-bodied woman living in Germany and working in a Western university. Inevitably, my approach to decolonisation is shaped by this positionality. Also, when I talk of ‘we’, I think of people holding similar privileges like myself, living and working in similar spaces, especially in institutions of Higher Education (HE) in the global North.
Background: Since the global outbreak of COVID-19 on December 2019, there have been 271.963.258 confirmed cases, including 5.331.019 deaths, reported to World Health Organisation (WHO, 2021). To address the ongoing challenges of the global pandemic, various governments and non-governmental organisations agreed to continue and strengthen cooperation to address the devastating ripple effects of the COVID-19 (Amaya, 2021). Despite these efforts, the impacts of COVID-19 pandemic have posed unprecedented challenges, especially to the poorest, most vulnerable, and marginalized groups. COVID-19 has disproportionately affected racial, ethnic minority, and marginalized groups (Tai et. Al, 2020). According to recent studies, the poorest, most vulnerable, and marginalized groups are left far behind (IFRC, 2021; Economic Policy Institute, 2020).
The contemporary neoliberal university in the UK is necessarily unable to enact decolonisation. What the university may do, however, is cultivate an intellectual environment ripe to discuss the ongoing pervasiveness of colonialism. In other words, instead of ten point plans or toolkits to award ‘decoloniality’ scores to be highlighted in ‘inclusive’ marketing campaigns to attract historically underrepresented groups, staff and students ought to undertake a relentless critique of the contemporary university apparatus. Such a critique of existing social issues must be immanent, as opposed to transcendent. I argue that an immanent critique can be helpfully guided by the negative dialectics of the late Critical Theorist, Theodor W. Adorno.
It took me a while to pen down these thoughts. Thoughts that otherwise would have just found some space in the corners of my journal. It took me great courage to write these thoughts out openly and and place them in front of my readers. I feel the need to do this because most often we are invisible minds behind the academic work that we produce. Our lived realities greatly influence our work but very rarely do we put out our reflections to the world. There are myriad reasons for this.
Coming from three different educational, geographical, and class backgrounds, the three of us met for the first time in a research institute in Germany. Together with a group of international colleagues, we were eager to be trained in Development Studies and pursue a PhD degree. In reminiscing about this journey many years later, we shared the struggles and challenges we experienced during our so-called ‘fieldwork’ stays in very different geographies and realised that there was a blatant gap not only in the way we approached our research, but also in the way we were trained: a lack of confrontation with the centrality of power and positionality in ‘development’ research (or any kind of research for that matter) – and a disregard of the colonial legacy in the way knowledge is created and considered legitimate.
Returning to this blog post 10 days after it was initially and hurriedly penned as the layers of exhaustion and necessity of not returning to, or acting, normal becomes increasingly urgent and palpably felt-sensed.
Writing from solo isolation with my two youngest and third arriving next week, in my bed, recovering from a virus and sore lungs (not ‘the’ virus, I think), in my PJs and unwashed hair. Youngest watching Netflix (sorry doesn’t work to give him a task he can get on with at 7am until lunch time as suggested in a RMIT article with steps on to how to manage time during a pandemic!- I might just get 20 minutes at a stretch).
This intervention is written from someone who is from the Global South and working in a Global North institution, often encountering racism, xenophobia and “white fragility;” someone in between borders, juggling dos lenguas, two epistemologies and cultures.
The words in the title of this blog are the formal goals of the Dayalbagh Educational Institute, a university founded by followers of the Radhaswami faith in the early 20th Century. We learned about the unique and inspiring work of the Dayalbagh University from Dr. Anand Mohan, the Registrar as part of this presentation during a two-day symposium on the implications of Ghandian thought to the issues facing Higher Education Institutions in the first quarter of the 21st Century. The symposium was jointly organized and hosted by the UNESCO Chair for Community Based Research and Social Responsibility in Higher Education in cooperation with the Association of Indian Universities, UNESCO New Delhi and the Asian Office of the International Development Research Centre September 18-20, 2019.