Dr Carol Ann Dixon (University of Sheffield) and Riadh Ghemmour (University of Exeter)
Decolonisation is everywhere. But are all forms of decolonisation to be celebrated? The virtual talk, which was given by Dr Leon Moosavi (Senior Lecturer in the Department of Sociology, Social Policy and Criminology at the University of Liverpool, UK) hosted via Zoom on Thursday 25th February 2021, explored some of the limitations and dangers of academic decolonisation based on the article, entitled ‘The Decolonial Bandwagon and the Dangers of Intellectual Decolonisation’ (2020). Leon argues that decolonial scholars should be cautious about approaches to decolonisation because some iterations of decolonisation may actually undermine our objectives and do more harm than good. Considerations were also given to whether there are better alternatives to decolonising universities, such as dismantling or abolishing them.
In this blog, two members of the Decolonial Dialogues co-editorial team (Carol Ann Dixon and Riadh Ghemmour) share some of the key points of discussion raised during the event. Before Leon gave his public presentation, co-editoral member Riadh Ghemmour shared a gift to Leon, correspondents, and DD/REEM team members. The gift was a poem, entitled ‘Children of The Present’ which served as a prelude to Leon’s provocation and Q&A session with colleagues:
Children of The Present
Azul, Berber word means hello
Relational hello where the goodness of our hearts flow
Aslam Alaykum, Arabic word means peace be upon you
The blood and resistance of our ancestors are like the sun kissing the planet
The fight, the legacy and the love are everything that is left from them
They were all bright and loud
And we must make them proud
We are the children of the present
Decolonisation is our investment
Today, we are joined by Leon, delivering a speech which we are keen on
We, the children of the present, want to change conditions
But we must not forget that this does not happen without our petition
A signed petition to promise love, care and solidarity
Indeed, that what we need to activate decoloniality
We are the children of the present
Honouring the ancestors and fighting against the oppressor
Dismantling hierarchies and inequalities
To proclaim our cultural and linguistic identities
We are the children of the present
Together in this space, ready to learn and unlearn to shift the turn
Our gaze matters
So embrace the colours of today’s event
Hoping you leave the room content
Carry on the dialogue and action
Because we can do justice with our intellectual attraction
Recently, decolonisation has become such a buzz word, within and beyond British universities, regularly used when seeking to progressively transform institutional spaces, decolonise research and diversify curricula. But what the event prompted us to reflect upon is whether our efforts in doing so are being interrogated, troubled and well-thought out to avoid some of the pitfalls and dangers which Leon points out in his article, that may cause more harm than good. Of course, neither the guest speaker nor us were aiming to provide a universal blueprint for how to decolonise – as the latter can be defined according to context, discipline, interests and ontologies. But the event reminded us to be constantly self-reflexive and careful about our approach to decolonisation to avoid jumping on the decolonial bandwagon, or adopting false generosity grounded in tokenism which treats decolonisation as a slogan, but does not necessarily do justice to the premise behind it (that is epistemic justice and pluriversality) . According to Leon, this is problematic as it re-inscribes harm and reproduces colonial practices which we, decolonialists, are trying to abolish for an equitable and emancipatory future.
In addition to such concerns, Leon drew our attention to the place of the Global South in decolonial circles. We should be aware that conversations and activism around decolonisation have been taking place throughout the Global South for decades, but are we looking into the scholarship, theories and ideas advanced by instrumental Global South scholars to shape the trajectory of collective decolonisation? In his article, Leon mentions some luminaries who have been significantly overlooked by Global North scholars when talking ‘decolonisation’: noting (among others) Malaysian Intellectual Syed Hussein Alatas, Kenyan literature scholar and activist, Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o, and Subaltern School scholar Ranajit Guha. These scholars and others have contributed significantly and meaningfully to decolonising Western canons that colonise the minds of local and Indigenous communities; their calls aimed to theorise and radicalise knowledge otherwise, using culturally-appropriate resources and ideas to gain ownership of their lives and contexts. It is also important to remember that using Global South scholarship should not be exploitative, appropriating knowledge and ideas without acknowledging their origins and genesis – this is indeed such a huge mistake which can run the risk of being colonial over again! However, Leon reminds us that Global South scholarship should also be subjected to criticism, and not be viewed with an uncritical, romanticised gaze.
Later in the presentation, another very important strand of Leon’s commentary included his insightful remarks about the tendency of some of us to not see the marginalisation of groups with whom we do not self-identify – sharing poignant examples from his own research and writing on anti-Semitism and Sinophobia to help crystallise these nuanced observations. It was also refreshing to witness Leon posing challenging and searching questions thought the lecture, that deliberately remained unanswered within his presentation and the follow-on Q&A discussions, in recognition that the complexities and tensions raised required much further contemplation, personalisation and time for all to consider actionable ways forward – based on our own unique positionalities, experiences and situatedness, within and beyond Higher Education.
Clearly the event opened up new avenues to consider how we should approach decolonisation within our respective spaces and disciplines. Leon interrupted our thinking for two hours, with a focus on some of the main dangers which we might be doing, knowingly and unknowingly.
These are the reasons why a collective dialogue which involves both Global North and Global South scholars and activists needs to be encouraged to avoid fragmentation and disconnect. Such decolonial endeavour requires hyper self-reflexivity to pose why questions: E.g. ‘Why am I doing this?’ ‘Why am I following this approach to decolonise?’ or ‘Is my approach to decolonisation merely tokenestic and colonial or something more meaningful?’
The conversation is still on-going…!
As an integral aspect of the session, members of the DD/REEN event organising team were invited to share a selection of key texts on decolonisation that have informed our own scholarship. The combined reading list is shown below:
- Andreotti, V. (2011). Actionable postcolonial theory in education. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.
- Andrews, K. (2021). The new age of empire: how racism and colonialism still rule the world. London: Allen Lane/Penguin Random House.
- Azoulay, A. (2019). Potential history: unlearning imperialism. New York: Vero.
- Guru, G., and Sarukkai, S. (2012). The cracked mirror: An Indian debate on experience and theory. New Delhi: Oxford University Press.
- Mbembe, A. (2001). On the postcolony. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.
- Moosavi, L. (2021). The myth of academic tolerance: The stigmatisation of East Asian students in Western higher education. Asian Ethnicity, Asian Ethnicity, p. 1-20. DOI: 10.1080/14631369.2021.1882289.
- Moosavi, L. (2020). The decolonial bandwagon and the dangers of intellectual decolonisation. International Review of Sociology, 30(2), 332-354.
- Rahemtullah, S. (2017). Qur’an of the oppressed: Liberation theology and gender justice in Islam. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
- Smith, L., T. (2012). Decolonizing methodologies. London: Zed.
- Spivak, G. C. (1990). The post-colonial critic. Interviews, strategies, dialogues. New York: Routledge.
AN UPDATE ABOUT THE EVENT RECORDING
Readers (and attendees of the Zoom session) are most welcome to continue these important discussions by sharing your own personal responses to the 25th February 2021 event in the “Leave a Reply” section, shown below. We also welcome your suggestions for future events and blog posts, which can be sent to the editorial team using the feedback form on the “Your Voice” page.