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.
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).