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by Anne-Marie McCallion

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Linda Tuhiwai Smith: What’s left if knowledge is decolonised?
September 28, 2021 7:00 pm UK time
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Abstract

My talk will pose some questions about the conceptual and practical challenges for decolonising knowledge. The question about ‘what is left?’ confronts a fear that some may hold about a decolonising knowledge agenda but it also identifies the problem of framing our understandings of decolonising approaches. My talk begins with that question.

Biography

Linda is the author of numerous ground-breaking scholarly works which focus on critical epistemology and indigeneity. Most notably, her book Decolonizing Methodologies: Research and Indigenous People (1998) traces how Western scholarly research has facilitated the racist exploitation and colonization of indigenous peoples. This book remains today a core contribution to the study of coloniality in the academy and the process of indigenising research methodologies. 

Most recently, Linda was Professor of Indigenous Education and Māori Development, Pro-Vice Chancellor Māori and Dean of the School of Māori and Pacific Development as well as the founding Director for Te Kotahi Research Institute at the University of Waikato in New Zealand. She was also a founding Joint Director of New Zealand’s Māori Centre of Research Excellence from 2002-2007 and a Professor of Education at the University of Auckland. 

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Veli Mitova: Epistemic Decolonisation for Today’s Africa
October 6, 2021 5:00 pm UK time

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Abstract

The call to decolonise knowledge is finally gaining deserved attention worldwide, in both academia and society more generally. But as the call’s popularity rises, so does scepticism about its benefits. In this talk, I develop a conception of epistemic decolonisation that is geared to withstanding such scepticism in the contemporary African context, rather than to engaging better established, more theoretical scholarship. I focus, in particular, on African philosopher Bernard Matolino’s recent paper ‘Whither Epistemic Decolonization?’. Matolino issues three challenges to the continued theorising epistemic decolonisation. First, it politicises the knowledge enterprise in an unacceptable way. Second, it seems to leave the black African forever stuck in a negative project of trying to define herself in contrast to the coloniser. Finally, dwelling on the epistemic wrongs of colonialism obscures important aspects of the African’s condition, such as her continued political and material disempowerment. If these challenges are on the right track, they threaten to derail the whole project of epistemic decolonisation. But I argue here that such pessimism is premature. I first offer a sketch of what I take epistemic decolonisation to involve. I then show how this sketch can help us defuse Matolino’s challenges.

Biography

Veli is Professor in Philosophy and Director of the African Centre for Epistemology and Philosophy of Science, at the University of Johannesburg. She is also the South African team leader for The Geography of Philosophy Project, and a PI for the Epistemic Injustice, Reasons, and Agency project funded by a Newton Advanced Fellowship.

Veli works at the intersection of epistemology, metaethics and the philosophy of action. At the moment, she is thinking about epistemic injustice and decolonising knowledge. She is the author of Believable Evidence (CUP 2017), and the editor of Epistemic Decolonisation (2020) and of The Factive Turn in Epistemology (CUP 2018).

Before joining the University of Johannesburg in 2015, Veli taught and researched at Universität Wien, Universidad Nacional Autonoma de México, Rhodes University (her alma mater), and Cambridge (where she obtained her PhD).

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Murad Idris: Re-Framing Islam: Submission, Reformation, Pacification—Decolonization?
October 13, 2021 5:00 pm UK time

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Abstract

The definition of Islam as submission, the claim that Islam needs a Luther, and the desire to identify jihād with private and spiritual struggle, all reflect a series of compulsions and elisions. The three idioms are fundamental to how Islam has been constituted in language as a subject and as a problem. They each also have forgotten genealogies. This project outlines these genealogies and their intersection through the politics of translating Islam as submission, peace, or salvation; of narrating its place and temporality in modernity; and of reinterpreting historical texts and exemplars through the prism of liberalism and toleration. These three moves take Islam out of history. The dislocation of Islam winds through three disciplinary moments that track political theory’s investments in philology, teleology, and philosophy. The seminar concludes by pointing toward critical possibilities and resources that emerge out of alternative discursive formations. In the process, it reflects on the implications of these genealogies for the project of decolonizing “Western thought” and “Islam”—whether as object or subject of discourse—and its limits.

Biography

Murad Idris is Associate Professor of Political Theory at the University of Michigan. Before coming to Michigan in 2021, he held positions and fellowships at Cornell University’s Department of Government, Columbia University’s Society of Fellows in the Humanities, the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton NJ, and the University of Virginia. He received his PhD in Political Science from the University of Pennsylvania.
Murad’s work focuses on Islamic political thought, Islam in political theory, empire and postcolonialism, global intellectual history, international political theory, the politics of comparison, and disciplinary history. He’s currently working on two books: one on constructions of Islam and another on Sayyid Qutb’s international political thought.
Murad is the author of War for Peace: Genealogies of a Violent Ideal in Western and Islamic Thought (2019), which won the David Easton Award from APSA and two Best Book Awards from the ISA. He co-edited The Oxford Handbook of Comparative Political Theory (2020) with Leigh Jenco and Megan Thomas.

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Leigh Jenco: Is “Decolonizing” Enough? Premodern Chinese Thought and the Challenges of Disciplinary Inclusion
October 19, 2021 5:00 pm UK time

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Abstract

Recent calls to decolonize the curriculum of a variety of disciplines have rightly focused on the impact of European imperialism on what can be said and thought in the modern academy. But is this critique sufficient, even in its own terms, to fully capture the range of historically possible modes of thinking and being that should inform our contemporary politics? In this talk I argue that a more radical kind of curricular diversity is required to take account of premodern traditions of thought–to include not only those that exhibit continuity with contemporary forms of knowledge and experience, but also those that may have been marginalized and truncated by non-European practices of imperialism or forms of knowledge. I focus in particular on premodern Chinese thought, a multidisciplinary, internally self-referential intellectual ecosystem, with pervasive connections to questions of philosophy. Yet these connections are not readily visible within its corpus of texts spanning more than 2000 years, whose sheer abundance and linguistic distance from living languages inhibits easy navigation or comprehension. Being less subject to reorganization by modern European imperial power, its categories continue to animate certain forms of present-day knowledge, making its inclusion in curricula all the more urgent—even as its very breadth and complexity demand wide-ranging transformations in what we take philosophical knowledge to be. How are these challenges to be met, particularly if we recognize that this body of thought has sustained normative enquiry for centuries, in terms unrelated to more familiar commitments to freedom and justice?  How, moreover, can we comprehend the exclusions this body of thought has enacted over centuries, including the subjugation of non-Han Chinese and non-textual forms of knowledge and experience? 

Biography

Leigh is Professor of Political Theory at the London School of Economics’ Department of Government. Before joining the LSE in 2012, Leigh taught and researched at the Institute of Modern History, Academia Sinica, Taiwan; the Department of History, National Taiwan University; and the University of Heidelberg. She obtained her PhD from the University of Chicago. 

Leigh’s scholarship is focused on Chinese political thought, Taiwan studies, global intellectual history, comparative political theory, epistemology, and metahistory. One of her current research projects focuses on articulations of otherness and equality within late Ming neo-Confucian scholars including Jiao Hong and Chen Di. 
Leigh is the author of Making the Political: Founding and Action in the Political Theory of Zhang Shizhao (2010) and Changing Referents: Learning Across Space and Time in China and the West (2015). Leigh also co-edited The Oxford Handbook of Comparative Political Theory which compiles a series of articles paving the way towards establishing comparative political theory’s guiding principles and methodologies.

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by Suddha Guharoy (LSE) and Andreas Sorger (LSE)

General introduction here

 
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    1.
    Baldwin, James. Down at the Cross: Letter from a Region in My Mind
    1963, in: The Fire Next Time. Penguin Classics. pp. 3-22.
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    Abstract


    Whatever white people do not know about Negroes reveals, precisely and inexorably, what they do not know about themselves.

    Comment


    Published in 1963, this essay offers a scathing attack on the racist history of America and its contemporary present in the 1960s. The text provides a trenchant critique of the way racism has shaped, and continues to shape, relations between whites and blacks in American society by suggesting that whites are trapped by a history they refuse to acknowledge – thereby making them unable to conceive of black Americans as their fellow co-citizens. Thus, for Baldwin, it is imperative that whites are made to recognise this history, as a failure to do so will inevitably result in an outbreak of violence. It is a compelling narrative of various quotidian as well as extraordinary incidents interwoven with local and international political causes and repercussions.

    Study Questions


    1. With respect to the religious journey of Baldwin:
      • What made him enter the ‘church racket’ (p.6) and get indoctrinated in Christianity?
      • What was his subsequent understanding of the historical role that Christianity played ‘in the realm of power and in the realm of morals’?
    2. “The white God has not delivered them; perhaps the Black God ” (p.12). How would one describe Baldwin’s conception of God?
    3. “…this leads, imperceptibly but inevitably, to a state of mind in which, having long ago learned to expect the worst, one finds it very easy to believe the worst”
      • Why does Baldwin consider not being able to believe ‘the humanity of white people is more real to them than their colour’ to be worst? What do we understand about Baldwin’s idea of love for people?
    4. What was the initial impression Baldwin had of Elijah? Did the impression change? If yes then what was the revised impression of Elijah that Baldwin had?
    5. “…the Negro has been formed by this nation…and does not belong to any other — not to Africa, and certainly not to Islam.” (p. 16)
      • Why does the identity of the Black Americans not belong to Africa and Islam?
      • Why does Baldwin claim that only a radical change in the constitution of American social and political structure can bring a real change in the life of a Black American? Do you believe that radical change in the social-political structure has occurred?
    6. What is the definition of ‘tokenism’ (p.18) that we get in the text? What are its material causes and consequences?
      • Against the idea of tokenism, how does Baldwin envisage freedom?
    7. “…a vast amount of the white anguish is rooted in the white man’s equally profound need to be seen as he is, to be released from the tyranny of his mirror.” (p.19)
      • What, according to the text, was Baldwin’s diagnosis of the problem in America? What does the idea of the mirror evoke?
      • “To create one nation has proved to be a hideously difficult task; there is certainly no need now to create two, one black and one ’ (p. 20) How does Baldwin envision the creation of a new America?

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    2.
    Césaire, Aimé. Discourse on Colonialism, pp. 31-46
    2000, NYU Press.
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    Abstract


    Publisher’s Note: This classic work, first published in France in 1955, profoundly influenced the generation of scholars and activists at the forefront of liberation struggles in Africa, Latin America, and the Caribbean. Nearly twenty years later, when published for the first time in English, Discourse on Colonialism inspired a new generation engaged in the Civil Rights, Black Power, and anti-war movements and has sold more than 75,000 copies to date.

    Aimé Césaire eloquently describes the brutal impact of capitalism and colonialism on both the colonizer and colonized, exposing the contradictions and hypocrisy implicit in western notions of “progress” and “civilization” upon encountering the “savage,” “uncultured,” or “primitive.” Here, Césaire reaffirms African values, identity, and culture, and their relevance, reminding us that “the relationship between consciousness and reality are extremely complex. . . . It is equally necessary to decolonize our minds, our inner life, at the same time that we decolonize society.”

    Comment


    Aimé Césaire’s Discourse on Colonialism is a foundational text in postcolonial theory, which provides an excoriating critique of not only European practices of colonialism, but also the underlying theories and logics used to justify them. Specifically, Césaire takes aim at the view of colonialism as a ‘civilising mission’, where benevolent Europeans would provide non-white non- Europeans with the tools necessary for modernisation. Instead, he argued that colonialism wrought destruction everywhere it went, killing people, eradicating civilisations, and obliterating any alternative cultural ideas that contrasted European values. Crucially, Césaire explores the psychological effects of colonialism on both the colonised and the coloniser – a theme that would be taken further by Frantz Fanon (a student of Césaire’s) in his writings.

    Study Questions


    1. Throughout Discourse on Colonialism, Césaire uses images of decay to describe European or Western civilisation. In the sections you are reading, he talks about it as a “stricken” and “dying” civilisation (p.31) and likens every act of brutality perpetuated by Europeans to a “gangrene” that spreads throughout Western civilisation as a whole. What do you think Césaire means by this image? What effect does it have on the reader?
    2. Césaire writes: “The colonialists may kill in Indochina, torture in Madagascar, and imprison in Black Africa, crack down in the West Indies. Henceforth the colonised know that they have an advantage over them. They know their temporary ‘masters’ are lying” (p.32). Why does Césaire suggest the colonialists are lying? Why does this give the colonised an “advantage over [the colonisers]”?
    3. What connections does Césaire draw between Nazism and colonialism? Why does he suggest that every “humanistic … Christian bourgeois of the twentieth century … has a Hitler inside him” (p.36)?
    4. What implications follow from Césaire’s claim that “no one colonises innocently” (p.39)? How might this change the way we examine the legacy of colonial practices today?
    5. What is the “boomerang effect of colonisation” (p.41) that Césaire diagnoses?
    6. What does Césaire mean by the phrase “Colonialism = thingification”? How does this relate to his discussion of the psychological effects of colonialism on both the coloniser and the colonised?
    7. What values does Césaire suggest we can find in pre-colonial non-European civilizations? What role do you think these values play in his wider argument?
    8. On the one hand, Césaire explicitly details the destructive power of Western colonialism, such that entire cultures and civilisations have been eradicated as a result of its On the other, Césaire defends the values of pre-colonial non-European civilisations (see p.44-46). Do you think this points to a tension within Césaire’s argument? If so, how might we resolve it? If not, why not?