Decolonizing the University in Global/Transnational Perspective: A Roundtable Conversation
What does it mean to approach efforts to decolonize the university from a global and transnational perspective? What kinds of North-South or South-South solidarities are possible or become impossible? How should we contend with the convergences and divergences in our respective struggles? This roundtable conversation draws inspiration from multiply-located struggles in African/Global South and Global North universities, including recent student protests and decolonizing knowledge debates in East Africa and South Africa, to attend to these questions.
Despite the formal end of colonial rule, it is evident that colonial formations of the African university persist. The constitution of the postcolonial university betrays what Frantz Fanon (1969) has referred to as the “pitfall of national consciousness:” postcolonial leaders and intellectuals sought to make universities “African” materially, socially, linguistically, and epistemologically, while rescaling the university within the spatial and temporal horizons of the national territory. In the years that followed, it is debatable the extent to which African universities have grounded their research agendas, curricula, pedagogical structures, and epistemologies in African realities and experiences, particularly in light of pressures to appeal to global market forces. Meanwhile, postcolonial investments in ‘security’ have exacerbated political repression and police brutality on university campuses.
In response to the onslaught on free public education that began with structural adjustment policies (SAPs) in the 1980’s, student struggles erupted across the continent, with strikes and demonstrations against the imposition of these policies. In the last several years, the question of decolonizing knowledge within African universities have re-emerged. Recent protests have focused not only on political-economic modes of exclusion, but on lingering hierarchical and racialized modes of knowledge production. In 2015 for example, students at the University of Cape Town campaigned for the removal of a statue of Cecil Rhodes, triggering a wider movement to decolonize the education system in South Africa. Since then, students and faculty across the continent and beyond have grappled with the hegemonic western social science model of knowledge production that continues to unproblematically circulate in the African university system, with the effect of marginalizing and/or eviscerating African indigenous epistemologies and anti-colonial knowledge formations. More recently, the language of decoloniality has become ubiquitous, and yet the question remains---What does it actually mean to call for the decolonization of the African university? And, as Francis Nyamnjoh (2019) asks, “How does one recognize and name decolonization? Should one take seriously discourses of decolonization even when the action unfolding falls short or apparently contradicts declared intentions?”
This roundtable conversation will engage these continental debates while also thinking through the ongoing imperial/global/transnational constitution of African universities. While African continental-based conversations on decolonization have been critical to higher educational imperatives in the Global South, we have often found that these discussions are marginalized in the Global North academy. Recent calls for the decolonization or abolition of the US-based settler-colonial university are not in conversation with the decolonization struggles of Global South universities. Responding to scholars such as Anneeth Kaur Hundle (2019) who have called for a critical analysis of both liberal multicultural diversity discourses and settler-colonial decolonization imperatives in Global North and South universities in a transnational and global perspective, we will think through our respective positions as scholar-activists who are based in the Global North and/or Global South university, asking what it means to engage in global and transnational solidarities with efforts to decolonize universities. What are the possibilities and limitations of decolonizing imperatives in African universities? What other formations of the university might we explore? What work of our own remains to be done on our own campuses, and in our supposedly “global” disciplines, scholarly associations, and journals---that ultimately privilege Global-North based works and epistemologies even on questions of race and power?
Participants in the roundtable will provide a short ten minute reflection on this set of issues based on their engagements with decolonizing work in the university, with a view to developing intellectual and institutional collaborations on a research thematic on Decolonization and the African University in Global/Transnational Perspective in the future.
Co-organizers/Co-convenors: Samar Al-Bulushi & Anneeth Kaur Hundle