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Expert opinion from IOE, UCL's Faculty of Education and Society


We need more research about the South, from the South

By Blog Editor, IOE Digital, on 4 August 2022

Colombian vice-president Francia Márquez, justiceforcolombia.com

Mainstream media barely reported the election of Francia Márquez, an Afro-Colombian woman from the bottom of the economic hierarchy, as Colombian vice-president.

Leda Kamenopoulou.

If we are serious about decolonising education, we must prioritise research from the South, and fund it properly.

Decolonising’ academia means challenging the dominance of knowledge produced by historically privileged contexts and groups, and it is a trend that has taken higher education by storm. In the last year alone, I noticed numerous conferences, workshops, seminars, projects and reading groups, all focused on decolonising education, psychology, curricula and reading lists, research methods and ethics, teaching and learning.

At IOE’s Department of Psychology and Human Development, we have just set up an ‘epistemic justice working group’ to help us address the power imbalances between North and South in knowledge production and sharing, by reflecting on our curricula, teaching practice, and research. It is important to clarify that ‘North’ and ‘South’ do not necessarily denote geographical location. Instead, the ‘South’ is a metaphor for spaces historically characterised by inequality, poverty, and economic, political and cultural disadvantage.

In this post, I argue that these decolonisation-themed activities will remain empty rhetoric until we are prepared to see the South as of equal value to the North. Recently, in Colombia, South America, where I have been carrying out research on inclusion in education, with a particular focus on decolonising methodologies, a monumental event took place: the election of the country’s first Afro-Colombian woman Vice-President.

Colombia is classified by the World Bank as ‘upper middle income’, but it is an extremely unequal country due to post-colonial social hierarchies, economic inequality, political corruption, poverty, and the over 50-year-long internal conflict and violence. All these factors have led to a complex humanitarian crisis, evident in frequent human rights violations and one of the highest numbers of internally displaced persons worldwide. Amongst the most marginalised and excluded from Colombian society are the three main minority groups, namely, Afro-Colombians, Roma, and Indigenous people. Our latest research moreover explores how inequality and exclusion were further exacerbated by the pandemic, especially for those in remote regions with little to no physical or virtual access to the rest of the country.

In this context, the election as the VP of an Afro-Colombian woman from the bottom of the economic hierarchy is quite simply, unprecedented. However, mainstream northern media barely reported this significant event and the interest from the public on social media was almost non-existent, which is in stark contrast with the world’s reaction after the United States elected its first Black and Asian woman VP.

Why was the election of a woman from the very bottom of the extremely inequitable Colombian society, the historically oppressed Afro-Colombians, who live in absolute poverty in some of the remotest and most neglected regions of Colombia, where government is absent and violence is the highest in the country, not gaining the same attention? Is the South not as newsworthy as the North? Is the South incapable of teaching the North about progress in relation to inclusion and diversity or is the North incapable of learning from the South? Writing about post-colonialism and neo-colonialism, de Souza Santos observes: ‘colonialism has disabled the global North from learning in non-colonial terms, that is, in terms that allow for the existence of histories other than the ‘universal’ history of the West’.

It therefore seems that the North continues to be the ‘global metropole’ whilst the South remains the ‘global periphery’. I would argue that related to this unwillingness of the North to engage with and learn from the South, is the low position that southern research occupies in northern funders’ priorities. This is the case especially for certain contexts, with scholarship from Latin America remaining largely invisible in global fora. To conclude, talking, writing, and thinking about decolonisation will never bring about real change, unless the North is willing to learn about the South from the South, and unless we invest in culturally sensitive research that prioritises the experiences of people living in Southern contexts. To ‘decolonise’ we must engage with ‘epistemologies of the South and the future’, that is, ways of knowing that reflect the perspectives of people from the South, whose voices have historically been neglected and silenced.

Forthcoming book chapter:

Moreno Angarita, M., Kamenopoulou, L. & Grech, S. (in press). ‘Colombia and the struggle for social justice’. In A. Hodkinson & Z. Williams-Brown (Eds.), Key issues in SEND and inclusion: International Perspectives across six continents. Routledge.

You can also watch a recent presentation of the chapter at an event organised by CLAREC.

Photo: Justice for Colombia website

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