As CHESAI, we have spent some time exploring decoloniality and how we as researchers, teachers, activists and citizens can engage with this concept in our work and lives. In this blog, we share some of the key ideas we discussed and invite anyone interested to contribute to the discussion and share their perspectives.
Decoloniality is a term that has been written about and discussed for many years but more recently became mainstreamed and popularized as a result of the Fees Must Fall and Rhodes Must Fall student protests which started in 2015.
More recently, a Twitter discussion about a London School of Economics (LSE) job posting using the hashtag #decoloniseHPSR drew attention to some of the complex global health related aspects of this discussion. When LSE posted a job for a Research Fellowship in order to establish and coordinate a ‘new’ network for African Health Systems and Policies based in London funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, a number of CHESAI members and other colleagues working in the Global South criticized this.
Some tweets highlighted the lack of acknowledgement of already existing African networks which were established and are based in Africa and doing important work with limited funding. Others touched on the reproduction of colonial patterns of knowledge production and power and questioned who would really be the beneficiaries of this arrangement. To find out more about this please search for #decoloniseHPSR on Twitter.
Additional resource: Video lecture: Dr. Shose Kessi (2017)
Some of the key ideas on decoloniality we have discussed within CHESAI include:
Coloniality and epistemic violence
While colonisation, as it is traditionally understood, has been officially ended in most countries, the legacy of colonisation lives on in a variety of structural, interpersonal and individual processes. Coloniality is the term used to refer to the impacts of this legacy which lead to continuing disadvantage and marginalization. These include systems that set up and reproduce hierarchies which favour certain forms of power, certain knowledge and ways of knowing, certain languages and certain ways of being and privilege those who are already in positions of relative power.
For example, the dominance of English as the medium of research in academia means that individuals who are not fluent in English are largely excluded from global academic conferences, journals and having a broad audience for their work and ideas.
Another example is the broad idealization of scientific knowledge as the most legitimate form of knowledge, side-lining other ways of understanding the world (Kessi, 2017). This process of legitimating hierarchies of difference can be understood as ‘epistemic violence’. This kind of violence uses these privileged forms of knowledge to produce an ‘other’ who is less valuable, even less human, and therefore less entitled to various rights and resources.
Decoloniality is a process
The decolonisation project is not working toward a fixed end point but instead is a continuous effort to reflect on, resist, dismantle and rebuild some of the oppressive ways in which our society is structured and how our own behaviours can reflect and reproduce these structures.
The importance of critique and reflection
In order to reorient ourselves towards decolonial ways of working, living and thinking it is important to earnestly reflect on and critique some of our taken for granted ways of doing things. In relation to research, we might start to ask ourselves questions like: Why do this research? What is my agenda? What is the context? What makes me the right person? How might others understand, judge and reproduce the research? How are hierarchies of difference reproduced in or through this research? What does it mean to do research in English? (Kessi, 2017). An exploration of the power dynamics within the research process and a consideration of potentially more participatory approaches may be a good place to start. In addition, having an explicit social justice agenda as a grounding for research is important.
Since our discussion at one of our CHESAI bimonthly meetings, Leanne Brady and Lance Louskieter have engaged in other activities aimed at encouraging discussion and reflection around these important issues. One such spin off activity was this decoloniality webinar:
For those interested in exploring this topic more, some additional resources are listed below:
- IHP Blog: Unpacking Power and Knowledge in Global Health: Some reflections from the Emerging Voices 2018 cohort.
- AfHEA organised session: An activist agenda for research and practise in Africa. Part A, Part B, Part C.