Published online by Cambridge University Press: 25 October 2019
THE QUEST FOR ‘DECOLONISED’ KNOWLEDGE
One of the core demands of the #FeesMustFall student protest movement in South Africa over the last four years (2015–2018) has been for ‘decolonised’ education. This concern is not unique to (South) Africa and expresses a global concern about ‘colonial’ knowledge. For example, the Centre of Study and Investigation for Decolonial Dialogue in Barcelona, Spain, explains its decolonising effort as follows: ‘A basic assumption of the project takes knowledge-making, since the European Renaissance, as a fundamental aspect of coloniality – the process of domination and exploitation of the Capitalist/Patriarchal/Imperial Western Metropolis over the rest of the world’. This coloniality ‘denies the epistemic diversity of the world and pretends to be monoepistemic’. The Western tradition of thought ‘is the hegemonic perspective within the world system with the epistemic privilege to define for the rest of the world, as part of an imperial universal design, concepts such as democracy, human rights, economy, feminism, politics, history, etc. Non-Western traditions of thought are concomitantly inferiorized and subalternized. … There is no modernity without coloniality’. (CSIDD n.d.)
The same sentiments are expressed by Achille Mbembe (2015). He asks what a Eurocentric canon is and responds: ‘A Eurocentric canon is a canon that attributes truth only to the Western way of knowledge production. It is a canon that disregards other knowledge traditions’ (2015: 9). He proceeds: ‘The problem – because there is a problem indeed – with this tradition is that has become hegemonic’ (2015: 10). Mbembe concludes that the decolonising project has two sides: a critique of the dominant Western models of knowledge and the development of alternative models. ‘This is where a lot remains to be done’ (2015: 18).
Indeed, a lot remains to be done. One could summarise the concerns of knowledge decolonisation as follows: Western knowledge traditions have become the norm for all knowledge; the methodologies underlying these traditions are seen as the only forms of true knowledge, which has led to a reduction in epistemic diversity; because of the institutional and epistemic power that Western traditions hold, they constitute the centre of knowledge so that other forms of knowledge are suppressed and are seen as inferior – a situation described as ‘coloniality’.