Evidence and the Politics of Participation in Academic-INGO Research Partnerships A Conversation on Knowledge Democracy
On Monday of March 27th in London, UK, I had the opportunity to attend a day of the two-day workshop jointly organized by a wide range of academics involved in international development and researchers from international NGOs, mostly based in the UK. For many years the two solitudes of academic international development researchers and international NGOs passed each other in airports and bars on their respective ways to their projects in countries in Africa, Asia, Latin America and elsewhere in the global south. In the past 5-10 years these separations have been breached as academic researchers have established a series of research partnerships with the UK-based INGOs. The Rethinking Research Partnerships initiative has been a two year series of seminars, reflections and conversations around the politics of evidence and participation within the academic-INGO research partnership process.
The ESRC-funded seminar series took a case-study approach, involving the presentation and analysis of seven cases of research partnerships. While these case studies could broadly be characterized as ‘successful partnerships’, the series identified and analysed a variety of challenges and tensions arising from collaborations. Despite the range of evidence preferences and research approaches adopted by the partnerships, and the diversity in scale and distribution (with many of the case studies involving additional partners from the Global South), the common thread running through the cases was the importance of understanding the context in which the partnerships were formed. The dynamics, agendas and priorities of the UK’s INGO and academic context (including policy and funding mechanisms for research and development) impacted on motivations for partnerships and shaped the types of evidence valued in partnerships with implications for the prioritization of certain approaches, skills, roles, knowledge and languages. A key aim of the event that I took part in was to share lessons from the seminar series from a UK-perspective while incorporating actors from the Global South, in addition to people working in other UK sectors, to engage with these insights, and affirm, challenge and extend them.
An impressive collaboration
The breadth of the collaborating organisations struck me. In fact most of the major UK academic units in the field of international development were there as well as many of the best-known UK-based INGOs working overseas. I was struck as well by the depth of the relationships that have sprung up over the years of collaboration. People knew each other well judging from the up-beat and collegial mood in the room. Most of those who were in the room had participated in one or more of the previous seminars, were part of earlier case studies or had been part of earlier efforts at harvesting new learning. Personally, it was a delight to see the mixture of young people as well as some friends of mine from 30 years or more. The way that the workshop was organised was wonderful! It was very participatory with a focus on allowing for the maximum sharing by the largest number of participants. The NGO mode of analysis in this case dominated the academic normality! And good to see that there has been funding over recent years for both academics and NGOs to pursue their independent and common interests. How much the UK Conservative sweep and the Brexit focus will take away from what has been was a worry on the minds of everyone. Clearly INGOS have increasingly been recognized as knowledge creators and not simply sources of data, although challenges remain.
Towards a decolonising practice
Taken as we have been in the UNESCO CBR team with the meaning of knowledge democracy, the decolonisation of knowledge, epistemide and cognitive justice, it might be understood that those were lenses through which I processed the experience. There were several thoughts that I want to share.
First is the importance of connecting the international partnerships between development-oriented academics and INGO partners with the rich array of domestic research being co-produced by universities and local NGOs/CBOs. It was significant that one of the seven ‘international development’ case studies explored through the RRP series had a UK-focus and involved CBOs, locals government and Trade Unions as well as the central partnership between a university and INGO. The workshop I attended also integrated a perspective from the UK’s community development and public (health and education) sectors as well as learning from the large-scale AHRC-funded Connected Communities programme. A key partner of the RRP initiative has been the UK’s National Coordinating Centre for Public Engagement with a view of linking learning between the international development sector and domestic community development on issues of universal concern such as affordable housing, violence against women, countering Islamaphobia and so forth.
Another question that I asked in one the small groups that I was in was to what extent did they involve academics from the universities in Ghana, Nigeria, and so forth; universities in the Global South. I was told that those kinds of partnerships were very rare because the UK based INGOS were more likely to link up with UK based academics and that international academics had more prestige and could be seen as more objective than local academics. This tendency has been enhanced by the shift in international development policy and research funding by the Conservative government with its explicit agenda around exporting British technical expertise as part of ODA. However, most of the case studies explored through the RRP seminar series involved additional partnerships with academics from Africa, Asia and Latin America and the ESRC increased the project’s budget to support academics from South Africa, Ethiopia, Brazil, the Philippines and Qatar to attend the workshop. Day 2 of the event also included a presentation from the South-South Exchange Programme for the History of Economic Development, which is a network of academics from the Global South engaged in re-theorising ‘development studies’ from a Southern perspective. The challenge then becomes how to influence funding and policy structures to ensure that these alternative knowledges and approaches are integrated into action-oriented research partnerships.
My next question then was what about the role of national NGOS? Every country that I know of in the global South now has a wide range of quite skilled national NGOS. Those NGOS that are funded by the INGOS were of course part of the process, but what about the independent ones? One story that I was told was that when a project was being created in one Middle East country, the national NGO(s) were critically involved as they had the on-the-ground experience, but when the proposal was finally finished only the INGO was mentioned as it was felt that they had more prestige. This challenge – and its related issues of extending networks, addressing complex power relations and building capacity was explored in the RRP workshop in a session led by INTRAC (the International NGO Training and Research Centre) who are engaged with these issues in their own work. It also relates to an emerging argument being made by activists such as Kumi Naido about the importance of involving Southern-based transnational social movements in knowledge production for the development of better policy and practice.
Budd L Hall and Jude Fransman, Open University March 30 2017
We have recently received a book curated by Florence Piron, an anthropologist and ethicist at the Université Laval in Quebec, Samuel Regulus, a Haitian anthropologist who is now professor at the Université d’État d’Haïti and Marie Sophie Dibounje Madiba, chief documentalist of the CERDOTOLA (International Center for Research and Documentation on African Tradition and Languages) in Yaoundé (Cameroon). The book’s title is Justice Cognitive, libre accès et savoirs locaux. Pour une science ouverte juste, au service du développement local durable (Cognitive justice, open access and local knowledge. Towards a fair open science in service to sustainable local development) and it is published by a new Canadian open access book publisher called Éditions science et bien commun. Florence Piron told me in a recent note : “ I am sure that you have understood that the book in itself is a gesture of cognitive justice : plurilingual, authors from the North and the South, men and women, senior and junior researchers, all that in an open access book!” The book with its various formats can be found at http://bit.ly/2lYqNwV. The tantalizing feature of course for those working in English and Spanish is that the bulk of the book is in French. A welcome feature is that summaries of all the chapters are available in English, Creole and other African languages. (This is something we should all be doing?) In terms of taking the pulse of a truly global and plurilingual movement of knowledge democracy, this is very exciting. The book is one of the outcomes of SOHA project (Open Science in Haiti and Africa), a project that was funded in part by a network of the International Development Research Centre between 2015 and 2017. The project drew from more than 6000 people, ‘engaged in diverse ways to the construction of a concrete utopia’ from Quebec, Haiti and 18 countries in Francophone Africa. Its website is at http://projetsoha.org.
From their introduction, another science is possible,
“Our utopia is based on sharing an ideal and an outrage. Our ideal is to contribute in an egalitarian manner without discrimination to scientific knowledge for a better understanding of the world we live in, a world more welcoming and self-fulfilling where we can live well together and where the abject misery that remains the daily situation for too many families, even in the global North, would have disappeared.
Our outrage is caused by the severe economic and social disparities between the countries of the North and the South. These injustices are intolerable. Our outrage is particularly felt in the way that ‘science’ tends to treat knowledge originating in the global South as a form of ‘subaltern’ knowledge (knowledge of the illiterate, peasant farmers, the landless, women….those without power or even knowledge produced in African universities).”
The project outcomes include two surveys that reached around 1000 participants in 18 countries, 4 international meetings on cognitive justice and open science, a network of emerging science shops in Africa and Haiti, an internet platform for African science available in open access, 30 videos, a MOOC course in construction, an open access publishing facility, two local open science associations and an international community of students, researchers committed to the concept of cognitive justice.
The book is divided into five sections: (1) cognitive Justice, (2) Open access, (3) local knowledge, (4) universities, society and sustainable local development and (5)open science, the SOHA project-analysis and testimonies. The richness of this book can be seen in the diversity of the writers taking up the themes of the various sections. The cognitive justice section has a piece by Shiv Visvanathan, the scholar who is credited with drawing scholarly attention to the concept, but the following chapters are written almost entirely by people from Haiti and Africa. The section on local knowledge draws our attention to oral traditions, to the myth that Creole cannot be a scientific language, to the place of Indigenous knowledge in the global scene. The section on universities, society and sustainable local development introduces us to the concept of science shops, to links between universities and civil society, and to civic universities in Haiti. The final section contains among other contributions, eloquent testimonials to the hopes for open science, open access, participatory research, and cognitive justice in Africa, Haiti, Quebec and the world.
This book of 465 pages is a treasure chest. For those who read in French, you have much joy ahead. For those without that ability, please make use of the various Internet translation sites to draw out some of the individual jewels in this work. For those looking for the names of scholars from the global South, here are some fine new voices!
Rajesh Tandon, Budd Hall and our small but mighty UNESCO Chair team salute the SOHA team for their wonderful accomplishments. We look forward to finding time and space to share much more in the future.
Professors Gloria Snively and Wanotst’a7 Lorna Williams have just published a the first of what will be two books on the Indigenous Science of a region of West Coast Canada and the US, the traditional territories of the Lekwungen (Songhees), SXIMEŁEŁ (Esquimalt), and WSÁNEĆ (Saanich). This book, a towering achievement, is moreover available as an open access publication under a creative commons copyright. It is a powerful example of what knowledge democracy looks like in practice. Gloria Snively is a celebrated marine biologist and educator. Wanotst’a7 Lorna Williams, a Lil’Wat scholar and former Canada Research Chair in Indigenous Learning and Knowledge. Both have been based at the University of Victoria, in Western Canada.
Why is this so important? For those of us working in community-based research, knowledge democracy, on issues of decolonizing higher education, on the science of the earth , We are familiar with the work of de Sousa Santos and the concept of epistemicide, the killing off of other knowledge systems by white European knowledge. But it is less clear how projects that recover and revitalize Indigenous knowledge for example can be carried out. Knowing Home grew out of an Indigenous Science (IS) research process that has been more than 14 years in the making. Key to the process was the involvement of younger Indigenous master’s students who, under the guidance of Professors Snively and Williams, undertook studies of IS that recovered Elder’s knowledge and community knowledge.
Knowing Home honours and restores Indigenous knowledge as a contemporary partner of Western science. It is not about replacing one hegemonic knowledge system with another, it is about finding a way for multiple knowledge systems to work together in the interests of all life on the planet. The title of the book makes that point, the Braiding of Indigenous Science with Western Science. Another chapter heading makes another powerful statement, Indigenous Science: Proven, Practical, Timeless. This book is designed to be used by science teachers and other educators in British Columbia schools. The public school system has mandated that Indigenous Science will now be part of the curriculum for secondary school students. But the importance of this project goes far beyond even this critical advance.
We are living in an era when the very concept of knowing home has become difficult. We are all expected to be contributors to some kind of global assembly line of products overseen by distant owners who grow increasingly glutinous by their wealth. We have lost the sense of home to such a degree that the ability of our planet support even our own lives as human beings is at risk. So it is in that sense as well that work of this nature must proliferate in many more parts of the world. In the meantime, let us celebrate this breakthrough, congratulate the editors, the former students, the many Indigenous and non-Indigenous supporters and allies for a luminescent volume that is also by grace of their vision and the internet available throughout the world for free!
Snively, G and Williams, Wanosts’a7 (Eds.) (2016) Knowing Home: Braiding Indigenous Science with Western Science, Victoria, BC: University of Victoria is used under a CC-BY-NC-SA 4.0 International License, except with otherwise noted
It has been my privilege to attend the Second Symposium on the Afrodescendants Movement and Latin American Studies organized by the Afro-Latin American Research Institute at the Hutchins Center of Harvard University and the University of Cartagena in Colombia held December 9 and 10 in Cartagena, Colombia. The organizers were Silvia Valero, U de Cartagena, Alejandro de la Fuente, Harvard and Alejandro Campos Garcia, Thompson Rivers University, Canada. The conference had expressed an interest in the work of our UNESCO Chair on community-university research partnerships and on the Confluence 2017 event being organized by Paulo Wangoola and the Mpambo Afrikan Multiversity that we are supporting in Jinja, Uganda in May of 2017.
The Afrodescendants movement is a mature and impressive movement of Afrolatinos and their organisations and includes diasporic activists, academics, international organisations and political leaders from all over Latin America and the Caribbean. There are over 200 million Afrodescendents in the Americas. They have been working together for many years having gotten their initial push in Santiago, Chile in December 2000, at the Latin American preparatory event for the 2001 UN World Conference Against Racism that took place in Durban. The term Afrodescendents (Afrodescendientes) was coined in Santiago to refer to the millions of Latin Americans of African heritage. It is encouraging that even with the resistance of the dominant powers to the message of the Anti-Racist UN agenda, the opportunity for Afrodescendants to begin working together is impressive.
The Cartagena conference brought together 50 impressive movement leaders from most of the Latin American countries including some allies like myself from Canada and others from the US and England. Amongst the participants were some of the leading world scholars on the Latin American African disaspora, leaders of national and international human rights and racial justice organisations and networks, Afrofeminist scholar activists, young Afrodigital social economy activists, representatives of the Organisation of African States and the World Bank.
From a knowledge democracy perspective, the event was very exciting. There was widespread recognition of the importance of moving beyond the hegemonic discourse of White Western European knowledge to include knowledges of excluded black thought. There were many moments where the power of the arts to represent transformative knowledge was present. One example of the later (from the women participants) was the invitation to several of the leading men in the conference to take scarves and cover up objectionable sexualized paintings that were on the walls of the conference area. Another was the use of hip hop by Magia Lopez of Cuba, a founder of the duo OBSESION, a team that uses hip hop for community and social change purposes. Monica Carillo, head of a Peruvian Centre for studies and support of AfroPeruvians began with a powerful poem on being a Woman Black Panther.
There were presentations from many community groups, some of which were using the terms participatory research and the co-construction of knowledge to express their way of working. One example is the work of Edwin Alvarez of Honduras who is the Director of the School for Afrodescendent leaders in Human Rights. This school is based in communities, attracts students from most parts of Latin America for four month community-based courses. They learn a variety of skills in the community. The communities play a role in the selection of the students themselves. They support learning of participatory research and the co-construction of knowledge.
The movement is one of the most promising gatherings of its kinds that I know of. It is a space of intellectual exchange, of strategic debate, of partnership and alliance building. It has strong Afrofeminist and youth engagement and has involvement from older women and men who have been leading the struggle for justice and equality for Afrodescents in their countries and the continent for many years. It is a space of co-construction of vision and strategy.
For further information about the movement, please contact Alejandro Campos Garcia email@example.com
Over the course of the 21st century, Europe has been experimenting with new paradigms of science. Starting with a conversation between institutions and leaders of science with citizenry, science and society, the focus began to shift to science for society. At this juncture, the thrust was to make science—especially ‘high’ science—understandable to citizens of Europe. Science communication centres and networks became active across Europe. Partnerships between researchers and societal problems received support from the European Union over the past decade and ‘science shops’ became a regular part of many European universities.
In the Horizon 2020 programme, focus has expanded to ‘science with society’. The new manifestation is labelled as ‘responsible research & innovation’ (RRI).
A vast network of researchers, institutions and actors has become associated with this new thrust. Nearly 200 of them assembled in Brussels last week to share experiences in promoting RRI in their countries/regions, and an impressive collection of RRI Tools has been documented (www.rri-tools.eu/final-conference).
It is heartening to see museums, science centres and science communicators engage with this process of promoting the awareness and practice of RRI in Europe. The ‘science with society’ movement is gaining momentum in Europe as high school students, women scholars, research councils and university systems are deeply engaging in elaborating a new approach to research that is responsible, relevant, accountable and just. Gender equality, authentic public engagement, open access and transparent multi-stakeholder system of governance are key features of this new approach in Europe.
As conversations and stories in Brussels began to indicate, ‘science with society’ is a radical paradigmatic shift from the current system of funding, doing and monitoring science, not just in Europe, but around the world. It implies significant ‘power shifts’ inside research institutions so that younger women scholars are respected, encouraged and given research coordination responsibilities. It is a ‘power shift’ in ways that scientists acknowledge that other valuable forms, modes and sites of knowledge production exist in society, and must be respected.
Institutions of science, fraternities and academies of science and funders of science have to come to terms with the challenge of major ‘culture shifts’ in their own establishments and mindsets, if RRI has to be mainstreamed.
It is how the present science establishment responds to this set of challenges of ‘power and culture shifts’ that will determine the future of RRI in Europe, and indeed ‘science for and with society’ in much of the world.
Learning to do, learning to be, learning to learn!
Purpose of education in general, and higher education in particular, has been variously defined by philosophers, educationists and policy-makers. In today’s context where knowledge economy is fast dominating the productive physical economy, quality and scale of provision of higher education assumes criticality. Conversations on social and economic relevance of higher education in India, in the above context, was the theme of FICCI 12th Higher Education Summit in Delhi (10-12 November 2016).
Both curriculum and pedagogical reforms were at the centre of the remarks made by various commentators in this conference. Ms. Martine Reicherts, DG of European Union for Education & Culture, emphasised the importance of soft skills and mobility for exposure as main achievements of the Erasmus programme in EU countries. Inaugurating the Summit, Mr. Chandrababu Naidu, Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh, exhorted delegates to pay greater attention to field interactions for students, and knowledge applications for societal outcomes.
Dr. Furqan Qamar, Secretary General of Association of Indian Universities (AIU), urged that enrolment, equity and excellence need to be carefully balanced in India’s context. Dr. Ashish Nanda, Director of IIM, Ahmedabad, argued that there is no contradiction between ‘excellence and reach’. Dr. Rajan Saxena, Chairman, FICCI Higher Education Committee, emphasised the need for multiple forms and modes of engaged learning opportunities to prepare citizens of tomorrow.
A common thread across various conversations about ‘Education for Tomorrow’ was the modalities and methods of learning in today’s digital environment. Engaged stance for learning and teaching encourages experiential learning in regular field interactions outside the boundaries of the university. Engaged scholarship requires co-construction of knowledge in partnership with outside stakeholders. Engaged service is not charity but empowerment of both students and community.
Viewed in this way, higher education institutions can adopt an engaged stance with the world around them to prepare ethical global citizens. Engaged universities promote learningto do (skills and competencies), but also learning to be (with diversity and plurality) and learning to learn (so that human and societal resilience is sustained). As Prakash Javadekar, Minister for Human Resource Development, Government of India said, “…sustainable prosperity requires best (engaged) universities”.
As India and the world face enormous challenges in the years ahead, greater contributions of higher education to achievement of SDGs will be expected. In preparing universities to make that contribution, engaged stance in all its three missions will only be feasible if higher education institutions heed the message of UNESCO’s recent World Social Science Report that highlights inequalities in knowledge production and mobilisation around the world.
Budd Hall participated in a panel on the UNESCO publication Rethinking Education: Towards a Global Common Goodas part of the European Society for Research in the Education of Adults (ESREA) held at the Irish National University in Maynooth, Ireland on September 9th. Rethinking Education has been designed to follow the series of influential earlier UNESCO documents, Learning to Be and Learning: The Treasure Within. This latest document designed to stimulate discussion and debate about education and the 21st Century, is “a humanist vision of education as an essential common good”.
The biggest shift that this document proposes is a shift from the use of the public good to the common good as the ultimate goal of education. “The notion of common good goes beyond the instrumental concept of the public good in which human well-being is framed by individualistic socio-economic theory”. The common good concept reaffirms, according to the document, the collective dimension of education as well as a shared social endeavour.
Whose common good? The unequal distribution of knowledge
Budd’s response to the report focussed on the question of whose common good was included within this concept? He shared the following map of the world that represents the unequal production of knowledge.
Very Weak Analysis on higher education sector
Aside form the failure to address some of the more obvious equity based issues about knowledge, the report, inspite of some very good work on schooling and adult education suffers from a very out-of-date and inadequate analysis of higher education. The report has missed completely the emphasis coming out of the 2009 UNESCO International Conference on Higher Education which is one of social responsibility. No mention of the Communiqué of that conference nor surprisingly of the UNESCO related GUNiWorld Report on Higher Education 5 :Knowedge, Engagement and Higher Education Contributing to Social Change. A mention of MOOCs and the concern about the misuses of global rankings are about all that the report has to contribute.
The shift from the idea of the public good to common good is a worthwhile debate, but a similar shift from knowledge society to knowledge democracy would help to draw issues of equity and action into much sharper focus.
It is a rare phenomenon when a progressive, innovative and transformative approach to research is mainstreamed in national policy. But this is precisely what Indonesia has done.
The national policy on higher education in Indonesia mandates community engagement by all undergraduate students. Called KKN in Bhasa Indonesia, this policy places students in a community for 6-8 weeks with the task of supporting local research for planning local development. The students get credit for it, the community gets a locally relevant development plan, and the public system gets authentic and current data about the socio-economic profile and asset inventory of the community.
Going a step further, the Ministry of Religious Affairs (MORA) in Indonesia’s federal government has mandated the use of community-based participatory action research to be the methodology for KKN in all Islamic universities and institutes. Indonesia has 55 universities under its Islamic higher education system. All undergraduate students of these universities learn the CBR methodology and practice under KKN. Faculty members in each such university have been initially trained to build such capacity amongst students before they undertake KKN.
Which other country has mainstreamed such methodologies of community engagement and community-based participatory action research?
During the 12th Plan in India, the government had included a provision for strengthening community engagement in Higher Education Institutions (HEIs). In 2014, the University Grants Commission (UGC) had even created a scheme –‘Centre for Fostering Social Responsibility’; learning and practicing community-based participatory research was made an integral part of this scheme. Alas, the scheme never got off the ground!
Now, the draft recommendations in the New Education Policy in India focus on relevance of curriculum and values of citizenship. Strengthening community engagement and using CBR methodology can serve both these purposes, as Indonesian experiences are already demonstrating.
The most exciting outcome of such an approach to education in Indonesian universities is the meaningfulness experienced by students. Several powerful stories of this approach were recently shared in an international conference, “Collaborative Creation Leads to Sustainable Change”, on University-Community Engagement hosted by Universitas Islam Negeri (State Islamic University), Indonesia, supported by Ministry of Religious Affairs, in Surabaya, Indonesia between 2 and 5 August 2016.
The Living Knowledge Network (LKN), a network originating with the creation of science shops in the Netherlands during the politically charged times of the 1960s and 70s has come together for a 7th time, this year in Dublin hosted by the Dublin Institute of Technology and the EnRRich Consortium. The EnRRich Consortium is a European Commission (EC) funded network of science shop members and similar structures across Europe who have come together to explore how the EC concept of responsible research and innovation might be incorporated into the curricula of higher education institutions in Europe. Some 260 persons from all parts of Europe and many other parts of the world including Canada, India, USA, Malaysia, Australia and Colombia. Rajesh Tandon and Budd Hall are supporting the EnRRich consortium as members of their Advisory Committee. Several observations are in order.
As the years have passed, the Living Knowledge Network/community/movement has broadened considerably from a gathering of science shop leaders, supporters and workers to a network of academics, community partners, government agencies, funders and others concerned with the broader mandate of knowledge and democracy. Numerous sessions on community based participatory research, Indigenous knowledge, policy creation, research ethics, pop-up urbanism, research impact, global networking, robotics peppered a rich programme also of stories from veterans of the science shop movement. The energy, the hope, the commitment to looking at the role of knowledge and its co-creation underscores the appropriateness of the concept of Living in the LKN title.
The movement has been able to grow over the years for several reasons. Most fundamental is growing global concern with strengthening the links between science and society in a world of academia that has shifted from the public good to the private good and from society to economy. Enabling this development in Europe has been the vision of the European Commission, a research and networking funding agency that has taken up the call of Science with and for Society in a robust and serious manner. Funding from the EC has enabled science shops and similar structures to multiply and deepen and in a practical manner has covered the costs for many to attend the Dublin #LK7Dub gathering.
The financial and political support of the EC also poses challenges. The concept of responsible research and innovation, is one coined by the EC as an umbrella term for the kinds of research that they feel best supports the vision of Science With and For Society. They have subsequently funded a range of project designed to socialise the term throughout Europe. In a way one could say that the EC has moved from supporting the already existent science shop movement to attempting to lead what they feel may be a wider and more inclusive movement under the RRI framework. This poses challenges as RRI is not a concept known at all outside of Europe and in fact is not at all well known within the broader European research communities. The LKN needs financial support and supports the underlying assumptions perhaps of RRI, but does the LKN concede its leadership in area of knowledge and democracy in this case to the whims and fashions of the EU bureaucracy? Or has the LKN succeeded in winning over the gnomes of Brussels to its democratic message? Stay tuned!
University campuses in South Africa erupted last year as a wave of demands for a decolonised curriculum swept across that country. Echoes of those cries were picked up by students at universities such as Oxford, with #Rhodesmustfall tweets and the University of Sussex with their conference on Decolonising Education this past April.
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission Report in Canada has supported the long held views of Indigenous scholars and political leaders and non Indigenous allies that the curricula in our universities has to change. Not a single student at the University of Victoria, the University of British Columbia the University of Toronto or any other university should graduate without knowing the actual history of genocide and linguicide that has happened and to some degree continues to happen today.
The calls from South Africa, from Indigenous peoples here and elsewhere speak of decolonising our universities, of opening ourselves up to an understanding of what de Sousa Santos calls epistemologies of knowledge. These calls are linked to scholarly work that is being done on issues of epistemicide, the killing of subaltern knowledge systems by dominant western European male knowledge systems. Concepts such as cognitive justice have arisen with the idea that there can be no social justice without cognitive justice; that is the recognition of multiple knowledge systems. Knowledge democracy seeks to replace concepts such as knowledge economy the latter being linked to preparing students for work in the global assembly lines.
But there are other issues that are amongst us in our universities that cry out for deeper action, more research and deeper soul searching. The past few years have seen the rise of what is most popularly known as rape culture across many of our universities. My own university has recently had an experience of a rape of a student who was told to keep things quiet as solutions were being found. And we have heard the same in campuses across the country. Very high numbers of women students have been victims of rape or other forms of sexual violence and harassment. Perhaps this has been going for decades, or forever. The difference is that women are coming forward to organise and speak out and demand that in the interest of social responsibilities our universities must change.
The siren call of the past 25 years has been the market economy. Free market economy has replaced issues like the common good, the public good, general welfare, inclusion, social justice as the alter at which governments and even universities should worship. But not the economy of cooperatives, of value based banking, of small businesses or local economic development, but the economics of the global assembly lines. We are however living in a period that might be likened to the revolt of the chorus. The chorus is now speaking out and those of us who work or learn in the halls of academe have the opportunity for a generational response.
Change in a university is not an easy job. Universities are filled with academics each one of whom feels that she or he has a fairly clear vision of the truth. Organisationally we are decentralised and resist thoughts from above as a child does cod liver oil. And we really are a space of incredible contestation. Politicians have ideas about what we should do. Global capitalism has some thoughts. The people in our communities would like us to help more locally. University leaders are terrified by the global rankings ‘ponzi’ schemes.
Yet, change is imperative. Universities must embrace social responsibility frontally now!