University of Cambridge > Talks.cam > Centre of African Studies Michaelmas Seminars > Can We Decolonise the Academy from Within?

Can We Decolonise the Academy from Within?

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Audre Lorde invokes the fundamental challenge for transforming systems of inequality and oppression when she observes “the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house”. We know that power-keepers cannot emancipate those they have oppressed, but in academia we have also seen that change is difficult, if not impossible, without cooperation and collaboration from institutional powerbrokers. In this talk, I examine the implications of complicity for researchers and educators engaged in oppressive knowledge systems in the context of efforts to decolonize African Studies. I ask if and how we who partake in and are carved from partial and unequal knowledge hierarchies can transform them in a way that is truly emancipatory. In the spirit of feminist analysis and hybrid epistemologies, I discuss the issue in three parts. First, I outline the systemic challenges we face in decolonizing the academy, mapping briefly the content, structures, practices, and processes of the African Studies ecosystem. Second, I discuss auto-reflexively (or simply, candidly) the strategies I have implemented in my own early career to dismantle white hegemonic knowledge structures, and reflect on some of the challenges and limits I have encountered in transformation work. Third, I present preliminary quantitative data from my research with Ian Russell on inequality in African Studies publishing and gatekeeping in peer-reviewed journals. Ultimately, I argue we need to be more rigorous in our individual and institutional attempts at decolonization. Creating space and ceding control are necessary precursors to enabling innovation and amplifying emancipation.

This talk is part of the Centre of African Studies Michaelmas Seminars series.

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