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.
Any traditional wisdom, be it Vedic, Aztec, Buddhist, Sufi, etc., while withstanding their key differences, seem to converge in a message, i.e., all of us are different from each other and from mother nature; yet one with each other and with her in the same instance. By definition, a paradox is a a statement or proposition which, despite sound (or apparently sound) reasoning from acceptable premises, leads to a conclusion that seems logically unacceptable or self-contradictory. The paradox is at full play around us. In our own little worlds, we want to support climate change while enjoying the “luxuries” of a comfortable life that comes at the expense of injustice done to the environment. We detest war but trade with those waging them even when we know that territorial claims of the past century produced nothing but unprecedented scale of violence, and we witness yet another unfolding of war on the horizons. Though the current injustice received justified media coverage, we see many such wars happening in many parts of the world that go unnoticed as they don’t produce the click bits of a scale of the current crisis happening in Ukraine.
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).
This contribution is situated within the beginning of my un-learning the single feminist story and its underlying violence, which constitute whiteness in German universities’ gender studies departments. I argue that the dominant knowledge politics enforces and normalizes white feminists’ epistemic privilege as well as practices that are “considered ‘unmarked’ – yet unmarked only if viewed from the perspective of normative whiteness”. As white feminists, ‘our’ epistemic privilege is reproduced through specific knowledge politics that has as a referent white, middle-class, cis-female herstory and experience. Insisting on ‘gender’ as isolated meta-category, this politics upholds patriarchy as a universal and transhistorical phenomenon, whilst trivializing the enmeshment of power relations resulting from (neo)colonialism and racial capitalism. Disconnected from ‘other’ (her)stories of struggle, ‘our’ story is not only produced as normative; white feminists are also authorized as ‘natural’ inhabitant of gender studies departments, with the prerogative of speaking for, on behalf, and instead of ‘others’. Thereby, knowledge politics re-produces violence against knowledge holders and knowledges beyond white feminisms’ genealogy. As Audre Lorde diagnosed long ago, white feminists’ self-centeredness and ignorance signify that “only the most narrow parameters of change are possible and allowable”.
Social organisations tend to be based on asymmetric power relations – almost always, almost everywhere. Inequality characterises interaction both inside and in between societies. Class-based hierarchies, peppered by gender imbalances, sexism, racism, xenophobia, homophobia and many other forms of discrimination are the order of the day, both nationally as well as internationally. Colonial power structures and mindsets – understood as a hierarchical system imposing normative values which exclude and discriminate – remain almost always an integral part of any form of social reproduction, even when we believe that colonialism as a system in which foreign powers occupy and execute rule over other territories and people, is a matter of the past. Following such broad understanding, social reproduction tends to inherently maintain colonial structures, and individuals remain colonised subjects.
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.
As you know we, as Convivial Thinkers, are continously exploring new formats of learning and engagaging with knowledges and especially with communities of knowledge. For that reason, we are extremely happy to host and feature Parinita Shetty and her work by way of text (- this transcript ) and audio (-the podcast conversation between Parinita Shetty, Sayan Dey and Lata Narayanaswamy). When she is not guest podcasting for us, Parinita is exploring how fan podcasts act as sites of public pedagogy by providing a social learning context in informal digital spaces. With her project Marginally Fannish she takes an intersectional lens at online fandom.
In their conversation, Parinita, Sayan and Lata exchange about how collaboratively engaging with knowledge and activism with a wide range of people both within and outside institutionalised academic spaces is crucial. The world we inhabit offers us several different learning opportunities. However, academic structures frequently end up valuing a limited kind of expertise.
Whose cultures, languages, and experiences are considered the default? What kind of knowledge matters? How do you seek alternative communities of knowledge beyond the restrictions of the structure you work in?
On 29 April this year the Faculty of Culture from University CLAEH in Montevideo organised a forum to reflect on the role of cultural managers during the pandemic, where different approaches and visions were shared. I was glad to participate and contribute with some reflections. This text is the continuation and deepening of those first ideas.
The current crisis caused by the Coronavirus pandemic has transformed daily life in almost all countries of the world. In these four months, countless articles have been written in Uruguay and around the world on the impact of the pandemic, on the possible exit and future scenarios. If we could talk about the density of virtual meetings, we could certainly be facing a historical record, not only of simultaneous activities in the virtual space but also of the number of people on line. Most of them analysing the very meaning of the pandemic itself, a variety of aspects of reality and their relationship to the phenomenon. Perhaps the greatest coincidence in this babel of seminars, articles, videos and other diversity of tools used to try to understand and project, is that reality as we know it, to a greater or lesser extent, will change. It is changing. It changed. And therefore it is possible to say that the future, the sense of the future, is in dispute.