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15 January 2021
Possibilities and complexities of decolonising higher education: Critical perspectives on praxis
There is wide acknowledgement of the need to ‘decolonise’ higher education (Anderson, 2012; Aman, 2018). There have also been critiques of Western mono-conceptualizations of modernity, democracy and the nation-state (e.g. Chatterjee, 1997; Mbembe, 2015) and the role of modern universities in imposing these ideals on Indigenous and Global South communities. These critiques are also epistemological, challenging the assumption that Western-centric knowledge is humanity’s only valid way of knowing and that the West is both the model and apex of human development. The decolonial critique insists that modernity and ‘coloniality’ should be understood as mutually constitutive concepts. Further that the coloniality of modern universities manifests in hierarchical economic, political, socio-cultural, linguistic and intellectual relationships between dominant and marginalized populations (see for example Quijano, , Marker , Mignolo [2002, 2009, 2011], Spivak , Tuhiwai Smith  for scholarly ground work in this area and Andreotti et al , Stein and Andreotti  and Aman  for more recent critiques).
In an effort to challenge the coloniality of modern forms of higher education, scholarly work has applied decolonial, Indigenous and postcolonial theories to unjust and unequal power relations with regard to knowledge production, cultural, institutional and policy relations, curriculum and pedagogy, and consequentially the differential realisation of epistemological and ontological frames within which higher education can be embedded (e.g. Stein, 2019; Gyamera and Burke, 2018; Luckett, 2016; 2018; Hayes, 2019, Hayes and Cheng, forthcoming).
But while this work (usefully) helps us understand why higher education institutions and those who embody Western modernity may be positioned as ‘naturally’ exercising intellectual superiority over ‘others’, little has been written in higher education journals on to what extent and how the supremacy of Western modernity is actually being challenged in knowledge production in different disciplines, curricula, pedagogic, cultural and linguistic practices on the ground in university policy and practice.
This special issue aims to engage critically in the gap between high theory and its practical realisations by calling for contributions that detail the design, implementation, outcomes, short-comings and limitations of planned and actual decolonising policies and practices at institutional, disciplinary, curriculum, programme or classroom levels. Through scholarly engagements with these concrete challenges to dominant and uniform notions of Western modernity, we encourage authors to also recognise and theorise shifts in epistemological and ontological assumptions, in discursive formations and in emergent and alternative forms of subjectivization and social relations. We are interested in how, through actual practice and strategic action, decolonial/postcolonial shifts can both interrupt Western hegemony and open up spaces in which other ways of knowing, being, and relating can thrive.
At the same time, we recognize that decolonisation is messy, contextual, and emergent. This means that we are interested in contributions that address the full complexity of efforts to transform higher education – including not only viable possibilities and success stories, but also the challenges, limitations and complexities of such decolonizing moves.
We invite contributions from higher education contexts around the world, as there is no place left untouched by colonial domination. Some themes which could be explored by potential authors (although this is not an exhaustive list) include:
- What does it look and feel like in practice to promote epistemic justice in a particular classroom or curriculum?
- How and to what extent can the universality and normativity of Western knowledge be contested in particular disciplines, curricula and/ or teaching practices?
- What principles, values and worldviews inform the selection of knowledge in a particular curriculum? What are the absences as well as presences, centres as well as margins and how far is it possible to reimagine these relations?
- How might higher education teachers and managers work to broaden what counts as knowledge?
- How might actors from systemically marginalized groups produce and share knowledge in higher education institutions? And are there situations in which we should attribute ‘epistemic privilege’ to particular groups?
- How might a particular curriculum recognise and teach different geographical, ethnic, regional, cultural and epistemic frameworks for interpreting the topics taught in ways that are rigorous, ethical, and respectful?
- To what extent does a discipline regard Indigenous and Global South communities as sites of theoretical production as opposed to sites in which to apply ‘universal’ knowledge and gather data? To what extent does a curriculum recognise Indigenous and Global South authors/ voices as epistemic equals?
- How can one teach self-reflexively about one’s discipline, about its historical development, geo-political location, dominant paradigms and methodologies and epistemological and ontological assumptions? What are the challenges of this work?
- What can academic teachers do to respect the different intellectual and socio-cultural positionings of their students? To what extent are processes of student meaning-making and engagement transformed as a result of this recognition?
- How far can pedagogic practice facilitate inclusion without assuming assimilation?
- Can we recognise and articulate our own epistemic and cultural limitations and vulnerabilities? How might we articulate these for students in ways that challenge the reproduction of hegemonic power relations and social hierarchies?
- To what extent should decolonising policies be imposed across an institution/ the disciplines / professional education?
- What kinds of pedagogies and curricula can support educators and students to grapple with their individual and structural complicity in colonial violence?
- What makes decolonising efforts in higher education classrooms distinct from, and/or similar to, other social justice efforts (e.g. equality, inclusion, diversity)?
- Alongside success stories, what can be learned from the difficulties, complexities, and failures of decolonising efforts in higher education?
- What are the critiques and limitations of decolonial theory and its application to modern/ postmodern institutions of higher education?
Aman, R. (2018). Decolonising Intercultural Education: Colonial Differences, the Geopolitics of Knowledge, and inter-epistemic dialogue. London, Routledge.
Anderson, E. (2012). Epistemic justice as a virtue of social institutions. Social Epistemology, 26(2), 163-173.
Andreotti, V., Stein, S., Ahenakew, C., & Hunt, D. (2015). Mapping interpretations of decolonization in the context of higher education. Decolonization: Indigeneity, Education & Society, 4(1), 21-40.
Chatterjee, P. (1997). Our modernity (No. 1). Rotterdam: Sephis.
Gyamera, G. O., & Burke, P. J. (2018). Neoliberalism and curriculum in higher education: A post-colonial analyses. Teaching in Higher Education, 23(4), 450-467.
Hayes, A. (2019). Inclusion, Epistemic Democracy and International Students: The Teaching Excellence Framework and Education Policy. Springer.
Hayes, A. & Cheng, J. (forthcoming). Datafication of epistemic equality: advancing understandings of teaching excellence beyond benchmarked performativity. Teaching in Higher Education.
Luckett, K. (2016). Curriculum contestation in a post-colonial context: A view from the South. Teaching in Higher Education, 21(4), 415-428.
Luckett, K. (2019). Gazes in the post-colony: an analysis of African philosophies using Legitimation Code Theory. Teaching in Higher Education, 24(2), 197-211.
Marker, M. (2004). Theories and disciplines as sites of struggle. Canadian Journal of Native Education, 28(1 &2), 102-110.
Mbembe, A. (2015). Decolonizing knowledge and the question of the archive.
Mignolo, W. (2002). The geopolitics of knowledge and the colonial difference. The South Atlantic Quarterly, 101(1), 57-96.
Mignolo, W. D. (2009). Epistemic disobedience, independent thought and decolonial freedom. Theory, Culture & Society, 26(7-8), 159-181.
Mignolo, W. (2011). The darker side of western modernity: Global futures, decolonial options. Durham, Duke University Press.
Quijano, A. (2000). Coloniality of power and Eurocentrism in Latin America. International Sociology, 15(2), 215-232.
Spivak, G. C. (1988). Can the subaltern speak?. In Morris, R.C. (Ed) Can the subaltern speak? Reflections on the history of an idea, New York, Columbia University Press, (pp. 21-78).
Stein, S. (2019). Beyond higher education as we know it: Gesturing towards decolonial horizons of possibility. Studies in Philosophy and Education, 38(2), 143-161.
Stein, S., & de Andreotti, V. O. (2016). Decolonization and higher education. In Peters, M. Encyclopedia of Educational Philosophy and Theory (pp. 1-6). Springer, Singapore.
Tuhiwai Smith, L. (1999). Decolonizing methodologies: Research and Indigenous peoples. Dunedin: Zed Books.
Looking to Publish your Research?
We aim to make publishing with Taylor & Francis a rewarding experience for all our authors. Please visit our Author Services website for more information and guidance, and do contact us if there is anything we can help with!
Potential authors are asked to submit abstracts of up to 500 words with a deadline of 5pm (BST) on 30th June 2020. Abstracts should provide an outline of the proposed paper, including its empirical, theoretical and/or philosophical basis. We actively welcome abstracts from across the globe and across the disciplines. We will be happy to receive full papers (up to 7,000 words), as well as less-standard submissions in the format of, for example, provocations, critical reflections and polemics (in our ‘Points of Departure’ format and up to 3,000 words - please see Points of Departure information here).
Abstracts should be submitted online here. We expect to inform successful authors by 31 July 2020, with a submission date for full papers of 15th January 2021. The Special Issue will be published in Summer 2021.
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