Decolonial work: Moving Beyond Simplistic Approaches to ‘alternative knowledges’
by Basma Hajir, Nomisha Kurian and William McInerney, University of Cambridge
The pervasive, systemic, and fortified configurations of coloniality within contemporary education contexts necessitates that decolonial resistance remains a deeply challenging practice. As a result, we believe it is important to acknowledge and unpack the many ways engaging in decolonization work can be complex, nuanced, and possibly even counterproductive if done uncritically. Specifically, we are concerned about the ways some decolonial work engages in overly-simplistic approaches to ‘alternative knowledges’ in resistance to colonized curricula and pedagogy. We fear uncritical work here, even that which is well-intentioned, can produce a dangerous context for binary thinking and cultural essentialism that might ultimately reinforce colonialism in education rather than deconstruct it. To unpack this challenge, we discuss three problematic aspects that we see emanating from uncritical glorification of alternative knowledges.
Uncritical Glorification: Erasure, Relativism, and Difference
First, uncritical glorification of alternative knowledges can unintentionally contribute to erasing history. For example, prompted by a desire to unpack western domination in education, to remain attentive to the limitations of grand narratives, and to point out what has been silenced, some postcolonial and decolonial scholars engage in critiquing the pre-eminence of what they refer to as ‘western metaphysics’, ‘western modernity’ or ‘western rationality’. We applaud their efforts and we wholeheartedly agree with the premise of their pursuit. Ultimately, interrogating western domination as a symptom of the alliance between power and knowledge is the core of decolonial work.