DECOLONIZE EDUCATION

  • CONCEPT
  • ACTIVITIES

The concept of diversity had an emancipatory potential for addressing axes of inequality which occur in collective action, and for highlighting heterogeneity within collectives composed by people with a plurality of routes and baggage. Feminist and anti-racist struggles within Higher Education Insitutions have achieved the creation of emancipatory spaces for alternative forms of knowledge production within the academy, such as the creation of gender studies or African-American studies departments. However, in Higher Education Institutions, diversity is often tokenized and co-opted: the ‘inclusion of diversity’ tends to problematise and victimise anything that deviates from white hegemony, by producing dichotomies and categorisations which make the alleged ‘different’ visible in two complementary roles – the problem and the victim” (Gilroy 1992). Discursive practices focussed on the ‘inclusion of diversity, we argue, produce differentiations between desirable and undesirable diversity, which reproduce colonial histories and narratives; this way, the categorisation of an alleged diversity that needs to be tolerated and included fosters white supremacy and colonial and patriarchal relations of power, rather than challenging them.

People of coulour and with a migration background continue to experience racial discrimination and exclusion in the context of education. Whilst Higher Education (HE) curricula and pedagogies often reproduce discrimination, they also have the potential to promote anti-racist practices. To do so, they need to review curricula to reflect diverse histories, achievements, and experiences of social groups subject to discrimination (Modood et al. 1999: 57).

Increasingly, educators within European HEI are asked to design programs that take ‘diversity’ into account and to produce teaching resources that ‘include diversity’ and foster equality. This challenge is twofold. On the one hand, there is a growing consensus that educators lack the appropriate training, resources, and time to successfully transform the curriculum or produce anti-racist pedagogies. On the other hand, whilst the notion of diversity has a liberatory potential, it can easily be tokenized, failing to dismantle the ways in which ‘theoretical models and Eurocentric histories continue to provide intellectual materials that reproduce and justify colonial hierarchies’ (Bhambra et al, 2019: 6).

In the following elaboration, we discuss how the concept of diversity has had an emancipatory potential for addressing axes of inequality which occur in collective action, and for highlighting heterogeneity within collectives composed by people with a plurality of routes and baggage.

In opposition to the “management of diversity”, antiracist feminist perspectives depart from recognizing diversity – and the challenges that it entails – in order to build intellectual and political solidarities across differences. This use of ‘diversity’ differs from the depoliticized aseptic morality often mobilized within European institutions, or as a way to allude to citizen plurality or essentialist identity struggles that omit inequalities, which can imply a weakening as subjects and political actresses to achieve any type of transformation. The dismantling of the idea of a homogenous subject of feminism, articulated around the notion of basic common identity and common ground oppression, has led to a wide range of discussion engaging the articulation between identity, diversity, and politics.

This tension is taken by Heidi Mirza (2015) for whom activism should pay attention to diversity and, at the same time, engage a conscious construction of “sameness”. In this context, “sameness” doesn’t refer to assuming that oppression experiences are identical nor to a unified universal political project, but to seek a sense of commonality from which to act. This can be illustrated through Sindillar’s experience; as Karina Fulladosa-Leal (2017) explains, the Union’s political project has explicitly addressed the challenges of creating a common initiative, while taking into account the diversity of participants’ situations and the conditions of their participation.

Several interventions within ΗΕΙ aim at including, empowering, or tolerating ‘those of different faiths and beliefs’. However, as academic institutions remain the main sites through which western colonial power imposes a dominant type of knowledge or way of knowing, it is necessary to analyse how the categories of difference are a result of colonial relations of power, a smokescreen by white supremacist institutions to perpetuate visible and invisible racial hierarchies (Quijano 2000, Stoler 2010).

By constructing a universal, homogenous oppressed subject and a universal structure of oppression (Mohanty 2003b), practices seeking the inclusion of diversity risk to erase or dismiss the need for in-depth interventions and analysis of the situated and material political and socio-economic relations through which oppression is perpetuated.

In the context of neoliberal academia, it is necessary to create cracks in and transform the epistemologies, methodologies, and pedagogical practices through which knowledge is produced as an abstract theory, which is intrinsically based on colonial principles of rationality, universality, and violence. In order to create cracks within these walls, we seek to build bridges between communities of decolonial feminist struggles so as to build alternative epistemological and pedagogical practices.

Transforming the curriculum from a decolonial feminist perspective goes far beyond enriching the syllabus by including different perspectives, or adding new resources to a reading list. Rather than including different imaginaries, the aim is to disrupt the colonial imagination, to learn by un-learning the internalised domination of whiteness. This means dismantling the way knowledge production and pedagogical practices perpetuate the white, male, and Eurocentric canon, from an intersectional feminist and decolonial perspective.

Decolonising education is an epistemological and pedagogical process that opens the space for uncomfortable, critical, and militant interventions on the practices and discourses that reinforce and normalise Eurocentric values and and the colonial continuum in knowledge production, acknowledging their constitutive role not only historically but also in the present of European academia: for doing so, decolonisation requires a collective process to reject inclusive pedagogies in favour of pedagogies of discomfort as transformative educational praxis (Motta 2018; Boler & Zembylas 2003). One the one hand, these lead the current infrastructure into a crisis; on the other, they can establish epistemic communities based on collective practices, conversations, and discussions, organised around a politics and ethics of feminist and anti-racist solidarity.

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DECOLONIZE EDUCATION
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What’s included in the pack

    Three activities to encourage understanding of the local context:
  • Diversifying universities? Decolonizing education!
  • The dangers of a single story
  • Strategies for collective resistance
An activity aiming to facilitate reflection on whether or not it is possible to advance decolonial struggles within Universities.
An activity aiming to encourage reflection on how dominant constructions of knowledge limit our perspectives and imaginations, whilst perpetuating racialized structures of oppression.
A counter-mapping exercise to understanding the colonial legacy of your University, drawing lessons and inspiration from existing struggles.
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DECOLONIZE EDUCATION ACTIVITIES
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3