Decolonising: cross-disciplinary perspectives on research and pedagogic praxis

Angelique RichardsonOpera Theatre

This panel considers current calls to decolonise the academy through productive and at times frictional exchanges between disciplines, and with publics outside universities, in addressing the role of English Studies in the current political moment. We are concerned with methods of working out new structures of education with and for future generations, and with foregrounding contemporary meanings and forms of social justice in the humanities and social sciences. To do this necessitates working across disciplines - not to collapse their differences, but to generate approaches to teaching and research that equip academics with tools to engage creatively with decolonial praxis.

The complex task of the academy at this point in time is not only to reform the content of its research and teaching, but to confront its participation in colonial infrastructure. We will consider accusations - inflected with a mistrust-the-expert, post-truth move - that universities are spaces for a liberal elite that is disconnected from political realities and, equally, the notion that English Studies should be a bastion of national culture, amid the global resurgence of ethnonationalism and an accelerating climate emergency. We understand decolonising as an intersectional and intellectual project concerned with challenging the systemic reproduction of inequalities - racial capitalism, gender, disability, sexuality, climate poverty, and class – which is necessarily international in perspective.

The panel will clarify that decolonising within a single discipline, as well as working across disciplines, is not about imposing a uniform standard of conduct. Rather, it involves disrupting and challenging the current instrumentalisation of the privilege of assumed neutrality and free speech as unequivocal standards of academic freedom, demonstrating instead that freedom within universities should be committed to facilitating the making of social justice within and outside them.

Methods of Reading and Anti-Racist Care (Dr Lara Choksey)

Postdoctoral Research Associate, Wellcome Centre for Cultures and Environments of Health, University of Exeter Email:

In debates over the recent take-up of decolonial projects in institutions designed to house the knowledge and spoils of colonialism – most notably, universities and museums – the focus on content (curricula, objects, people) often obscures the evasion of radical methods of return and reparation that decolonial praxis necessitates. This focus on content over method has allowed movements like Rhodes Must Fall and Decolonise the University to become mischaracterised as single-issue identity politics. But if we are to take the project of decolonising seriously, this means not just naming and contextualising, but taking down forms that have kept this knowledge and these objects in the places assigned to them. Countering – in Ben Pitcher’s words - the “fatalistic tendency to conceive of antiracism as a minority or elite concern” (2019) means encountering institutional racism in the grammar of its processes: in the delineation of limits through parentheses, quotas, and the language of diversity. Here, I identify four words as provocations towards anti-racist methods across research and teaching: identification, participation, catastrophe, and extraction. While these words are key to practices of reading in English Studies, and in communicating these readings to other readers, they also foreclose their own annihilation. If we learn to read with care, as the annihilation of colonial infrastructure, we might both acknowledge complicity in processes of systemic exclusion, and make possible radical forms of return and reparation.

Victorian eugenics and productivity and racial capitalism in 2020 Britain (Professor Angelique Richardson)

Professor of English, University of Exeter Email:

This paper will consider ways in which Victorian eugenics, while in Britain largely to do with class, was underpinned by a notion of service to the British imperial race and propped up by discourses of patriotism. I will track significant parallels, using Galton's early periodical work as founding texts of eugenics and his 1910 utopian (read dystopian) romance as a subsequent barometer of eugenic attitudes. I will consider opinions about immigration in the late nineteenth century and how these were fed by notions of productivity and racial capitalism in ways that find resonance today in discourses on disability and ethnonationalism and in hostile environment policy. These readings will demonstrate the political importance of reading the present historically.

Decolonising peace and conflict studies (Dr Malaka Shwaikh)

Associate Lecturer in Peace and Conflict Studies, University of St Andrews Email:

The field of peace and conflict studies is a recent one, founded in the 1960s by the Norwegian sociologist Johan Galtung. It has gone through several changes in the last half century, but it fails to establish itself as an independent field of study that takes a holistic approach to decoloniality and structural racism. In the world in which we live today, most conflicts seem to take place in what is habitually referred to as the Middle East, an area that has long been devastated by the impacts of a colonialism that is described as western. Without understanding such impacts on the people in this region and beyond, it will take us even longer to live in a just world. This paper examines the importance of the decolonial approach to the peace and conflict studies as a field of study and as a practical approach to life with mutual and equal rights.

Decolonising African writing: Kenyan case studies (Idris Yana)

PhD researcher, Department of English, University of Exeter and Lecturer in English and Literary Studies, Department of Languages, Faculty of Humanities, Sule Lamido University, Nigeria Email:

Intellectual activism was a pillar upon which African political structure was built. Writing was used to fight colonialism, re-narrate African history and stories, and critique the emergent African leaders when they failed to fulfil their promises. Decolonising the 21st-century intellectual sphere, as an intellectual endeavour itself, must be self-reflexive hence the need to meta-decolonise our project, especially around the place and contribution of women. The writings of female Africans were oppressed, and doubly so, by the canonised Empire narratives and by that of their male African counterparts. This paper explicates the works of Kenyan women writers such as Grace Ogot, Rebeka Njau and Muthoni Likimani as spaces for the processes of decolonisation to understand and include.

Decolonisation in Museums and Galleries (Sarah Campbell)

Associate Director for Arts and Culture, University of Exeter Email:

Decolonisation is not just a university issue. Museums and galleries are publicly and politically engaging with it too. To succeed, they need to change everything from collection policies to how objects are written about and displayed, from the way histories are narrated to staffing and pay. There is movement, a result of both internal and external pressures, but the argument is far from won. This paper will share examples from UK, US, and New Zealand museums and galleries, to demonstrate that while decolonisation is an international concern, the response is shaped by specific cultural and social contexts.

Sun 1:00 pm - 2:15 pm