Decolonising knowledge

Decolonising knowledge

Decolonising, decoloniality and related terms are the buzzwords of this year as well as last. In the South African case they have standing alongside them terms associated with student protests in its university system over the past few years although much less visible, less present, now than in earlier years. An extremely interesting book by Jonathan Jansen and Cyrill Walters explores these matters in relation to the Rhodes must fall and Fees must fall campaigns and their associated concern with what counts as knowledge and how it should figure in university curricula.

Its topic is the extremely important one of how to decolonise the character and practice of knowledge in particular but not exclusively in the university system. In the South African protests just referred to, different positions were loudly proclaimed, while material forms of protest like demolishing statues, stoning buses, burning buildings and so on also took place. But now, just a few short years on, little substantively has changed. Jansen and Walters discuss in detail their research exploring the whys and wherefores of the outcomes that eventuated. It is based on a large number of interviews conducted across a wide range of ten South African universities, combining interview data with case studies in an illuminating way that gets at what they refer to as the enclaves in which pockets of radicalism have come into existence and survived over the longer-term. Their analytical eye is in particular on the institutions and institutional processes which tend towards extreme caution and obfuscation, and they are equally unsparing of the pretensions of some radicals and in particular the patronising ways in which opposing positions have often been responded to. And unlike many, they recognise the breadth of intellectual practices represented in the university system and that this includes the sciences of all kinds as well as the humanities and social sciences. The case studies are illuminating indeed about the different responses in different inter/disciplinary arenas and that – taking a different form in different institutional contexts – critical pedagogy responses are those most likely to be effective even if small-scale.

This book is a notable contribution to a vibrant area of discussion and debate. It is important, indeed crucial, reading for people interested in decoloniality anywhere in the world.

Last updated: 27 January 2023