The Dissonance Of Things #5: Decolonising the Academy

decolonize

In this month’s podcast I’m joined Dalia Gebrial from Rhodes Must Fall Oxford and two stalwarts of TDOT, Meera and Robbie, to discuss ‘Decolonising the Academy’. We take a look at the Rhodes Must Fall campaign and its implications for understanding the relationship between higher education, coloniality and ‘race’. We also ask why is my curriculum white?  What can be done change the way in which knowledge is produced and taught in universities? Finally, we explore how decolonising the academy might relate to anti-colonial and anti-racist struggles taking place outside of the university.

Listen via iTunes or through the Soundcloud player below.

If you have any thoughts, comments or criticisms on this cast, please do comment below the line. You can also subscribe to this podcast on Soundcloud and iTunes.

 

 

4 thoughts on “The Dissonance Of Things #5: Decolonising the Academy

  1. Really interesting discussion. Thanks to you all! I felt compelled to leave a comment!

    I’m trying to work out some of these issues myself at the moment and the discussion about all white curricula really helped me clarify a few things. I have a contract for an IR theory textbook that will be a tour of the conventional canon. I start with Lenin and Hobson, contextualising their ideas, and then move forward chronologically to the present, charting the key/conventional/mainstream interjections in IR theory up to the contemporary post-colonial debates. I ask where the new ideas came from, why they appeared when they did, and what these new voices intended. The book is written from the perspective of post-colonial turn in IR’s disciplinary history, with a heavy does of Cambridge contextualism. So it provincialises (as Robbie, via Chakrabarty, put it) the mainstream canon from the outset (I explain how below). The problem is that, as your discussion drove home for me (again), it’s still a focus on white men, in the main, with later chapters tracing the opening up of the field to white women. This worries me and it’s been difficult to write the introduction to make sense of this, and I’m still not sure I can adequately justify the text-selection…

    The issue is that I want the book to be useful to critical and mainstream IR scholars. As Meera mentioned, it’s hard to teach a curriculum you weren’t taught yourself, and that’s what textbooks are supposed to support. The critical secondary material that’s helped me write this textbook isn’t commonly assigned on reading lists, while the all white star cast still are. I think Robbie’s right that teaching capitalism through Du Bois (for example) would give two subjects for the price of one (possibly three, if you include a sociological method as well as his perspective on race). But this book isn’t a study of competing accounts of core concepts. I’m trying to show how the discipline changed and sustained the contemporary world order, through a close reading of ‘core’ texts.

    I think there’s value in this for many of the reasons raised in your discussion. One key thing, for me, is that there’s a risk that if you don’t give the mainstream backbone, students and lecturer’s won’t take a textbook seriously. Robbie’s discussion of ‘domestic’ demographics reminded of a strange experience I had teaching IR theory at MA level at a Midlands university in 2012. In a class consisting of international students almost entirely from Africa (north and south), critical IR theory was considered a joke. It was practically impossible to explore it, alongside the mainstream, in 8 weeks (24 hours of teaching). Students switched off when I raised issues of colonialism and white supremacy in discussions of Woodrow Wilson’s ’14 Points’, or when I tried to explain the purpose of reintroducing class and gender to discussions about global power in the ’80s. These students found all that completely off-putting. I got the impression that all they wanted was what they thought they needed to get a ‘proper’ IR degree, and no doubt they probably all disagreed with my politics too. Robbie’s right that classroom/university demographics make teaching critical material very difficult. My students often remind me, in subtle ways, that I’m most definitely not one of them, the elite. There is no textbook out there, I don’t think, that does this background work for us.

    I’m trying to argue, in this textbook, that we can get a critical perspective on colonialism and racism, white supremacy and the role of IR in sustaining the contemporary world order, by understanding E. H. Carr’s defence of appeasement, or Waltz’s opposition to the EU and defence of nuclear proliferation (etc). Making these issues visible in their writings, through a discussion of power and anarchy of course, show us how the white world order was/is maintained. There’s great stuff out there now: Eddie Keene’s book, or Robbie’s on Morghenthau, and the innumerable other REF-facing texts available that re-write the history of the field (Hobson, Vitalis). A new textbook history of the mainstream canon is possible and can be an effective teaching tool – that’s my hope anyway. I think there’s a real desire to teach IR theory in more historically/contextually accurate ways (and so abandon Great Debates, paradigms, and all that guff), but these alternatives just don’t get written, especially in a time where research, not textbooks, are what Unis demand from their staff. Hopefully, by drawing attention to the white mainstream, the textbook helps raise questions of power and politics in effective ways? Maybe I should retitle the textbook ‘IR theory must fall!’.

    Anyway, great podcast and if you have any suggestions for me, I’d be happy to hear them!

    ps. I’ll let Meera’s off-hand equation of anarchy with relativism slide, this time…

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  2. This is vintage disorder. Thanks everyone indeed.

    Alex, your “strange experience” is not uncommon, and I think it goes back to a paradox of sorts (one that applies way beyond the teaching-classroom demographics nexus), which is captured by the title of Francisco Gil-White’s 1999 piece in Ethnic and Racial Studies: “How Thick Is Blood? The Plot Thickens…: If Ethnic Actors Are Primordialists, What Remains of the Circumstantialist/Primordialist Controversy?” How researchers/teachers are identified by themselves and others (and especially their informants/students) impact “the questions of power and politics” as you call them in all sorts of unexpected ways, which of course is not a surprise given the processual character of identity and its social power & pervasiveness. Anthropologists have grappled with this paradox since at least the middle years of the last century (as did more recently some good IR people–the TDOT symposium on autoethnography tackles aspects of this, for example), but I am yet to see a good handbook on how to make teaching “effective” in light of the “paradoxes” of identity relations in a classroom–I say this having spent hours going through the anglophone education studies lit. Also, Erik Ringmar has an IR textbook, soon to be more formally published, that you might find interesting. http://www.irhistory.info/

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  3. Pingback: [ReBlog] The Dissonance Of Things #5: Decolonising the Academy [Audio] | // Olivia U. Rutazibwa

  4. I’m trying to work out some of these issues myself at the moment and the discussion about all white curricula really helped me clarify a few things. I have a contract for an IR theory textbook that will be a tour of the conventional canon. I start with Lenin and Hobson, contextualising their ideas, and then move forward chronologically to the present, charting the key/conventional/mainstream interjections in IR theory up to the contemporary post-colonial debates. I ask where the new ideas came from, why they appeared when they did, and what these new voices intended. The book is written from the perspective of post-colonial turn in IR’s disciplinary history, with a heavy does of Cambridge contextualism. So it provincialises (as Robbie, via Chakrabarty, put it) the mainstream canon from the outset (I explain how below). The problem is that, as your discussion drove home for me (again), it’s still a focus on white men, in the main, with later chapters tracing the opening up of the field to white women. This worries me and it’s been difficult to write the introduction to make sense of this, and I’m still not sure I can adequately justify the text-selection…

    Like

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