Recent calls to decolonise the university in South Africa culminated in the removal of the statue of Cecil John Rhodes at the University of Cape Town and breathed new life into student-led campaigns around the world to rethink the curriculum. Challenging the colonial roots and Western biases of universities is, of course, not a twenty-first century phenomenon. However, in its latest iteration, the need to decolonise the university has been more clearly connected to the lived reality of the corporatised university as a distinct feature of the neoliberal era. Bringing debates on neoliberalism into closer conversation with a consideration of how neocolonialism is expressed in institutions of higher education has allowed for closer scrutiny of what ‘transformation’ actually means.
It has become abundantly clear to many of those who work and study in higher education, that the more things change, the more they stay the same. While the language of transformation has been woven into policies that have widened access to previously marginalised groups (including black and minority ethnic groups, women, indigenous and mature students), institutions of higher learning have a long way to go to dismantle the barriers to success that these groups face once inside the institutions.
My Identities article, ‘Rehumanising the university for an alternative future: decolonisation, alternative epistemologies and cognitive justice’, supports the view that substantive transformation of higher education requires an appreciation of other ways of knowing the world beyond Western epistemologies. Following the work of Portuguese sociologist, Boaventura de Sousa Santos, I argue that we need to complicate the lens through which we look at the world in order to reveal alternatives that are hidden in plain sight. Here, I am using the word ‘complicate’ to suggest a more expansive and intricate lens that, when brought into the same frame, allow us to conceive of a reality that cannot be imagined through a single Western paradigm.
Santos speaks of an ‘ecology of knowledges’ to suggest that different approaches to knowing the world are incomplete in different ways and, therefore, potentially complementary. Inspired by this idea, I use the metaphor of a knowledge kaleidoscope, first, to signal the possibilities that come into view with a slight adjustment of the lens through which we look at the world. Second, the idea of a kaleidoscope will hopefully remind readers of being young and filled with excitement at the thought that the slightest turn of the tube reveals a pattern more fascinating and colorful than the last. Ultimately, my article is intended to cast a more optimistic gaze upon the neocolonial, neoliberal university than is presently the case across much scholarly writing on these topics.
If we were to think of language as one lens that we use to understand the world, it follows that the privileging of the English language in academia deprives us all of having access to multiple perspectives on the world. Relying on Fanon’s account of violence in the colonies, I argue that the marginalisation of indigenous and many other languages from the curriculum and scholarship in general is profoundly dehumanising. I ask what might become possible if we had the tools to conceive of reality in different ways.
For instance, in te reo (the language of New Zealand’s indigenous people), the word for land or territory is whenua. This very same word is used to denote placenta or afterbirth. If, in the Western world, we conceived of the land as a placenta, I wonder whether the ethic of extractivism that fuels the capitalist economy would be so unimaginable as to be absurd. A more considered integration of multiple languages (and the complexity of meaning that these bring) into our theoretical conceptions of social phenomena arguably would go much further in the quest for decolonisation than the occasional sign on a university building or translated email signatures or letterheads.
Questioning whether indigeneity has been side-lined in favour of internationalisation, my article explores the latter as a dimension of neocolonialism. It examines whether internalisation agendas that are being pursued quite aggressively in many universities in New Zealand and elsewhere are exclusively about raising the incomes and global standing of universities or whether – with some input from a wider range of stakeholders, including students – they can be adjusted to respond to the decolonisation imperative.
Blog post by Marcelle C. Dawson, University of Otago, New Zealand
Read the full article: Dawson, Marcelle C. Rehumanising the university for an alternative future: decolonisation, alternative epistemologies and cognitive justice. Identities: Global Studies in Culture and Power. DOI: 10.1080/1070289X.2019.1611072
The Domari Gypsy community of Jerusalem is relatively small; estimates suggest it comprises around 111 families. The numbers are larger in Gaza and the West bank, where it is estimated there are 15,000. Many Palestinians and Israelis are not aware that this community lives at the heart of city.
In the Arab world, and East Jerusalem included, Domari people are referred to as 'Nawar', a term which is said to be derived from fire. The Tribal Leader of the Domari in Jerusalem says that the word 'Nawar' (related to Noor or ‘light’ in Arabic) was given to them because they came to Jerusalem with the Muslim fighter Noor Al Din Zenki who fought alongside Salah Al-Din in 1187. Another suggested reason for the name is that many of the Domari worked as blacksmiths who used fire. However, stigma and discrimination against the community has led the name 'Nawar' to be filled with negative connotations; the word has evolved to describe unruly behaviour, as an insult, and is very much in use in conversation today.
I started researching the Domari community in Jerusalem in 2017. Getting members of the community to engage in this research was not easy. Palestinians residing in occupied East Jerusalem, including the Domari community, are in constant fear and suspicion of people asking questions about their lives, due to the fact that they do not have settled citizenship status in Israel and they only have residency permits. Following the occupation of East Jerusalem, Israel granted the Palestinian community and the Domari community living there residency status. With no citizenship status in any other country, their fragile legal status makes them reluctant to share information about their lives, as they fear they risk losing their residency rights.
I managed to reach fifteen Domari women residing in Jerusalem and conducted in-depth interviews with them. Their narratives were analysed through an intersectional lens to expose the multiple oppressions to which they are subject. Their stories reveal high levels of stigma and isolation, which have disempowered members of the community and perpetuated the cycle of their exclusion. Exploring the social prospects and standing of Domari women in East Jerusalem, one needs to understand the power relations and the political and socio-economic hierarchies in the city. In the context of Jerusalem, the hegemonic forces of colonialism, capitalism and patriarchy shape the experiences of people residing in the city.
In my Identities article, 'The social exclusion of the Domari society of Gypsies in Jerusalem: a story narrated by the women of the tribe', I draw on these interviews and offer a description of the institutional discrimination Domari women face in Jerusalem from several aspects: their interaction with governmental institutions, their experiences in the labour market, the social services they receive, and their interaction with their surrounding community and neighbours. My article looks into the women's distinctive unequal and stigmatised social experiences in the city and the intersecting systems of power that create and reproduce their loss of status, and hence their exclusion.
These women's narrated stories reflect a feeling of isolation from both the Palestinian and Israeli communities. The women interviewed resided in the most disadvantaged neighbourhoods in the city. Living under Israeli rule, the socially constructed value of their language, ethnicity and religion is less than that of Jewish Israeli citizens. Their residency status and lack of citizenship disempowers them further, curtailing their life opportunities. Their stigmatised identities as women from an ethnic minority result in several systems of oppression, operating against them simultaneously, denying them access to resources, equal social rights, work opportunities, wealth and power.
Blog post by Rawan Asali Nuseibeh, Hebrew University, Jerusalem
Read the full article: Nuseibeh, Rawan Asali. The social exclusion of the Domari society of Gypsies in Jerusalem: a story narrated by the women of the tribe. Identities: Global Studies in Culture and Power. DOI: 10.1080/1070289X.2020.1738130
Reviewing the reviewers: how people made sense of W. E. B. Du Bois’s Darkwater: Voices from Within the Veil
On 26 February 1920, the 276-page Darkwater: Voices from Within the Veil – written by renowned sociologist W. E. B. Du Bois – appeared in bound print. Published at the zenith of Jim Crow, the book contained autobiography, cultural criticism, poetry and sociology. These were marshalled, in Du Bois’s words, to 'strike here and there a half-tone . . . up from the heart of my problem and the problems of my people' (1999 :ix).
People took notice. The reading public drank deeply from Darkwater: the first run of 5,000 copies soon sold out, followed by a second run selling out and a third run of 5,000 produced and sold by July 1921.
Critics too, waded into Darkwater, resulting in many a published response. In reviewing Darkwater, the 29 April 1920 edition of the Daily News called Du Bois a 'raving madman' and his book a 'hymn of hate' before cautioning that 'it should be read by those whites who are able to restrain their tempers under an attack, not merely venomous, but lacking the faintest regard for either justice or truth' (4). In a decidedly dissimilar tone, the 28 July 1920 edition of the Cleveland Plain Dealer printed a review describing Du Bois’s text as '. . . an appealing and touching work, marked both by pathos and by power' (Rose 1920:8).
Darkwater arrived to no shortage of opinion. While these two above examples bookend the extremes, what was the full scale of the response?
While the famed Marxist historian Herbert Aptheker covered many of the reviews of Darkwater in The Literary Legacy of W. E. B. Du Bois (1989) and David Levering Lewis, the premier biographer of Du Bois, also examined reviews in W. E. B. Du Bois, The Fight for Equality and the American Century, 1919-1963 (2000), these account for only 31 reviews in total.
In my Identities article, 'Debating Du Bois’s Darkwater: from hymn of hate to pathos and power', I dug through historical newspapers, journals and magazines to find over 110 published accounts of Darkwater, from distinct advertisements (n=4); publishing announcements (n=19); book club declarations (n=5); mentions in passing (n=10); poems (n=2) and of course, reviews (n=73). I qualitatively catalogued the tone and content of the reviews in order to ascertain how Darkwater was received in the early 1920s as well as quantitatively listed, whether reviewers’ coverage was positive (n=45; 39.8%), negative (n=11; 9.7%), mixed (n=27; 23.9%) or not applicable (n=30; 26.5%).
I cover an array of responses, some lovingly crafted with adoration for what Du Bois imparted, while some were vicious and racist ad hominin attacks. Perhaps most important to our current times, I show how, despite sociology’s supposed moment of Du Boisian renaissance, the field has yet to truly reckon with Du Bois and Darkwater. As of March 2020, the British Journal of Sociology, Canadian Journal of Sociology and Sociology have never cited Darkwater. The main sociological outlet of Du Bois’s day, the American Journal of Sociology (AJS), once published Du Bois’s paper 'Prospect of a world without race conflict' in 1944, and Charles S. Johnson reviewed Du Bois’s Black Folk - Then and Now in AJS in 1940. Yet, AJS refused to review the 1920 publication of Darkwater or the 1969 Schocken Books reprint. It appears Du Bois was most acceptable when his focus was on either blackness or post-racial peace, not on the intersection of whiteness, war and wages – the central focus of many of Darkwater’s chapters, especially the 'The souls of white folk'.
Will these trends continue? One wonders what role sociology will play in an increasingly fractured world marked by the admixture of simultaneous claims of post-racialism, colour-blindness, white supremacy and racial fatigue. To put it in Du Boisian terms, will a problem of the colour-line in the twenty-first century be the problem of sociology?
Aptheker, H. 1989. The Literary Legacy of W. E. B. Du Bois. White Plains, NY: Kraus-Thomson.
Daily News. 1920. (29 April):4.
Lewis, DL. 2000. W. E. B. Du Bois, The Fight for Equality and the American Century, 1919-1963. New York, NY: Henry Holt and Company.
Rose, WR. 1920. On book shop shelves. Cleveland Plain Dealer (28 July):8.
Blog post by Matthew W. Hughey, University of Connecticut, USA
Read the full article: Hughey, Matthew W. Debating Du Bois’s Darkwater: from hymn of hate to pathos and power. Identities: Global Studies in Culture and Power. DOI: 10.1080/1070289X.2020.1742480