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Constructing a Decolonial Space #002- Kadiwal, et al.

By utnvmab, on 12 November 2020

Constructing a Decolonial Space

by Laila Kadiwal, Mai Abu Moghli, Colleen Howell, Charlotte Nussey and Lynsey Robinson

In this post, we lay out our emerging thoughts on how a decolonial space looks, sounds or feels to us. The aim of the initiative, ‘Alternative Histories of Education and International Development’, is, as our co-directors explain, ‘to support thinking better about education and a future which overturns colonial relationships of hierarchy, dispossession, exclusion and subordination’ (Unterhalter & Oketch). Doing so requires asking ourselves challenging questions about our work and position within the academy, as well as about how to ensure this initiative contributes to deepening decolonial thinking and practices that reflect it.

At the Centre for Education and International Development (CEID), our present work is about understanding the structures that shape our world and to assist in making them fairer, more compassionate and more equitable. Yet, our practices as educators, practitioners and researchers in education and international development may inadvertently reinforce existing social, political, and economic inequities. The institutional systems and structures that we operate in, including how we research, fund, collaborate and produce knowledge in this field reproduce systemic inequalities and racial exclusions. We are acutely aware that the mainstream conception, norms, and practices of international development are rooted in colonial and imperial projects, which have continued under the guise of helping the world. Decolonising international development, therefore, warrants interrogating our assumptions about how we conceive our imagination of and the relationship between ‘developed’ populations and those we see as ‘to be developed’ or ‘developing’.

In recent times, students and academics in the UK have shown greater interest in working to decolonise the curriculum and some university practices, inspired by for example the 2015 student movement Rhodes Must Fall. The wave of Black Lives Matter protests triggered by the tragic and brutal murder of George Floyd in the USA has also encouraged some debate on many campuses. Partly in response to these movements, UCL has announced several actions to recognise and redress its historical links with colonisation including renaming buildings named after prominent eugenicists. These shifts provide a unique opportunity for colleagues at CEID to examine its colonial entanglements and current practices further.

It is in this context, we outline below our vision for how a decolonial space feels, sounds, and looks to us at this historical juncture:

This initiative is a space for activism.

At the centre of this initiative will be historically marginalised progressive voices, knowledge, traditions and experiences. Colonially produced knowledge, racialised, and material hierarchies persist in the field of development, and work of scholars and activists in many parts of the world remain unrecognised. Therefore, instead of using our privileges to ‘take up space’ to advance our interests, we hope to recognise them as a responsibility to ensure that the CEID decolonisation initiative becomes a space for marginalised voices to speak for themselves, especially in the context of education and international development. Our logo is designed to represent this challenge to our imagination and assumptions: a reversal of typical depictions of the global space that instead foregrounds Africa and the Global South.

It adopts a ‘pluriversal’ and intersectional stance.

The decolonial space will also interrogate the claims of objective, singular, universal and taken-for-granted descriptions to make space for alternative ways of thinking about education and development. This process necessitates a reflection on the process of knowledge production and cannon building: who selects that knowledge, who chooses these thinkers, and what are the historical and political contexts behind these choices. We will pay close attention to how colonially and imperially established knowledge and power structures shape our societies, and how that knowledge colonises, undervalues and marginalises experiences and justifies exploitation of people and nature. In doing so, we seek to advance an appreciation of difference and an intersectional approach to challenging subjugation along lines such as race, gender, caste, religion, language, region, age and ability. This process of critique will engage members of the public, students, artists, activists, educators and writers, as co-producers of knowledge and experiences, and in shaping the dialogue that this blog represents.

It promotes reflections on positionality.

The most challenging idea of decolonising is related to our positionality. Positionality involves reflecting on our location in the geopolitics of knowledge production and its consequences. It entails a reflection on ourselves as educators or researchers within that context of decolonisation. We will encourage pieces that problematise one’s positionality as an essential lens through which to think about teaching and research, and how it translates to selection of theory, location or research processes.

It is a safe space for unlearning. 

We hope this initiative will become a safe space for exploring and unlearning our complicity, preconceived notions, practices, values and assumptions that reproduce colonial paradigms and ways of thinking. It will stand for a kind of learning activity in itself and not a finished product. We will seek to build connections, synergies, bring together ideas and bounce ideas off each other as a kind of productive tension and a creative process. We will also have reflections on what we have wanted to do from where we started and where it has taken us. This process will be done in the spirit of exploring, healing and connecting in a space that is welcoming to all.

Submissions in all languages are welcome. 

Language is an essential part of decolonising discussions. We encourage pieces in all languages and scripts. A related question is that of translation. We want to be able to curate and make experiences available in languages other than in English and not merely translate what is available in English into other languages. In this sense, we aim for a multilingual process of dialogue.

Creativity is encouraged. 

Finally, the initiative is unconventional in the sense that we want to go beyond the textual modes of articulation to creative expression, including painting, poetry, and other art forms. The initiative also encourages different ways of producing and disseminating knowledge such as podcasts, illustrations and videos.

We do not claim that trying to live up to the principles above will be easy. We also know that the debates on decolonisation within academia often remain at aspirational, abstract or rhetorical levels. Nonetheless, we hope to work patiently through the process to ensure that we continue the journey of collective ‘unlearning’ and new learning for a better future. We would appreciate and warmly welcome your allyship, ideas and support.

Please get in touch with us.

If you would like to discuss or submit an idea for a blog, please email: Mai Abu Moghli or Charlotte Nussey.

If you would like to join the discussion cafe, recommend a resource or facilitate a seminar, please contact: Colleen Howell or Lynsey Robinson.

If you are a student and would like to start or be part of a student-led initiative, please connect with: Albina Tortbayeva

For everything else, please get in touch with: Laila Kadiwal 


Opinions expressed on the CEID Blog are only those of the author, not the Centre for Education and International Development or the UCL Institute of Education.

Want to publish a blog post in this series? Send a submission or idea to:  Mai Abu Moghli or Charlotte Nussey.

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