In a recent paper for the University of Johannesburg, Raewyn Connell shared some of her thinking on the decolonization of knowledge. In many ways she aimed to re-think the history of knowledge itself, moving away from the Northern bias and colonial structures in mainstream social science. She argues, “The relationship between knowledge produced in different parts of the world is not as simple as “Western” domination. Knowledge flows in multiple directions from the metropole to the periphery and from the periphery to the metropole.”
Raewyn is a Professor Emerita at the University of Sydney. She has been an advisor to United Nations initiatives on gender equality and peacemaking, and, in 2010, the Australian Sociological Association established the Raewyn Connell Prize for the best book in Australian sociology.
After her interview, Will Brehm wanted to ask Raewyn an additional question. In this online exclusive, we re-print their email exchange in full below the fold.
On July 29, Will wrote:
Dear Raewyn,I hope you are doing well. I finally finished editing your show, which will air on Monday. The rough cut is attached here for your listening pleasure. Let me know what you think. I’ll be sure to send you the links to the show once it’s up. I’ll also link to your website in the blog post that will accompany the show.While listening to the show again, I thought of a question I wish I had asked you. I’ll ask it here, but please don’t feel the need to respond!I was schooled in the USA from pre-K to masters degree. I then did my PhD at the University of Hong Kong. That school was built by British colonialists. My dissertation research looked at private tutoring in Cambodia. I went to that country, collected my empirical data and then flew back to Hong Kong (or Melbourne, where I also lived) to analyze and write up my findings, using some old guy’s social theory (Henri Lefebvre). In other words, I embody all that you talked about in terms of the dominate way knowledge is produced and flows. I’m stereotypical. So, what advice would you have for someone like me who completely understands the points you make but has a particular history that is hard to escape? How can I resist re-producing the mainstream knowledge?Thanks again for talking. I had a wonderful time — and learned a lot!Have a great weekend!Best,Will
Thanks Will, I’ve had a listen, and you’ve made it sound very good!
Sorry I didn’t have some more colourful detail for you. I think that when I’m lecturing on these topics, I rely a good deal on visuals for the concrete detail and the laughs. So with audio, I need to find another way to do this. Any advice you have will be welcome.
Thinking about your question, that was true for me too. I was brought up in a completely Anglocentric school system, that didn’t even use the arrival of millions of postwar migrants to diversify. I did two university degrees in much the same way. My PhD, for instance, combined Australian data (collected by me) with theory from an old white guy in Europe (Jean Piaget).
It’s taken me a long time to work some way out of that. The best advice I can give, really, is to go looking. I wrote the book “Southern Theory” to encourage people to do that, by telling the stories of some intellectuals and some of their ideas around the global South.
So, for instance, if you are concerned about commodification and neoliberalism, go looking for what intellectuals in India, Mexico, Brasil and Egypt have been saying about it. Or if you are interested in the short story as a genre, go looking for African short story writers. Or if you are thinking about environment, find out what Indian feminists or African fishers have been saying about it.
It will take a while, because the knowledge economy (especially databases on the Internet) is not set up for that. You may need to ask for advice as well as search online – ask colleagues and other people in the region what you should read. I found some wonderful texts just by haunting bookshops.
In time that will lead you, at a second level, to thinking about the broader, underlying issues that are preoccupying thinkers in the South, or in particular parts of the South. These issues may be quite different from the issues you began with, and the Northern-origin frameworks you are familiar with.
A current example is the discourse about “trans”. In the USA, very much influenced by post-structuralism and queer theory, writers about transgender issues have been talking for the last two decades about fluid identities, contesting binary norms, individual rights to self-expression, etc. And because that’s what’s said in the USA, that’s what circulates globally. But when I have talked to transsexual women and transgender people in global-South contexts, those are not the issues that mainly concern them. What concerns them mostly is poverty, violence, housing, family conflict, hostile police – basically, issues of personal and social survival in the local gender order. It’s a different story.Best wishes, Raewyn