Tag Archives: academic

Warning: Questions Ahead! Southern dialogues at the beginning of 2013

Southern dialogues are developing strongly at this moment in time, though only to highlight the significant challenges ahead.

The colloquium Diálogo Trans-Pacífico y Sur-Sur: Perspectivas Alternativas a la Cultura y Pensamiento Eurocéntrico y Noroccidental took place on 8-9 January, as part of the grand scale Congreso Interdisciplinario at University of Santiago, Chile. Latin America has been the home of particularly active southern thinking, inspired often by its indigenous cultures. The ‘south’ as a rallying call has been significant given the tangible counter-influence of the United States, to the immediate north.

The Santiago colloquium witnessed a change away from this previously combative north-south argument. The principal perspectives were from Chile, México and Argentina. Much discussion was given to the emerging relations with Asia, specifically China. Alongside this was the growing influence of Brazil across Latin America, reflected in the large number present for the parent congress. In the past, these south-south relations would have been flavoured by a solidarity against USA as the common hegemon. But now there is increasing recognition of a diversity of interests across the south, and the need to reflect this in a conversation which is not reduced to catching up with the North.

One tangible contribution of the colloquium was the title. The word ‘noroccidental’ literally means ‘north-western’. This refers more generally to Western culture in the North, rather than the top left corner of the globe. Such a term accepts that there is a Western culture in the South as well, particularly in countries like South Africa, Australia and Chile. But it differentiates itself from other northern countries, such as Russia and China.

Other emerging terms are ‘Euro-American’ and ‘trans-Atlantic’. The problem with these is that it uses the generic term to represent only one half—North America. ‘Euro-American’ does not include Latin America, nor does ‘trans-Atlantic’ feature exchanges with Africa. The challenge is to find an English equivalent of ‘noroccidental’. Would ‘north-Occidental’ do?

The plenary concluded with a call for a more global understanding of South, reflecting such developments as population flows through the North and the relational identity of North and South.

The challenge is to extend this dialogue beyond Latin America to engage with forums elsewhere in the South. There is much activity in South Africa at the moment around the book by Jean & John L. Comaroff, Theory from the South: Or, how Euro-America is Evolving Toward Africa, including the recent critical responses in Johannesburg Salon. In Australia, there is continuing reference to Raewyn Connell’s Southern Theory, as well as Indigenous Studies broadly taking on global themes.

The relative lack of connection between these dialogues is, of course, reflective of the condition of the South itself, as a series of spokes connected with each other only via a central hub in the North. Language is an added challenge. The convenor of the Congreso Interdisciplinario Eduardo Devés has developed his own perspective on the Southern condition through ‘periphery theory’, outlined in his publication Pensamiento Periférico, which is freely available in Spanish. The potential reduction of South to the condition of periphery is an important challenge to the broader historical narratives that it carries. To what extent the issues normally identified with South be characterised by the condition of distance from the centre? Such a perspective puts the historical conditions such as settler-colonialism into question.

Though the distances between the southern countries themselves should be identical to those separating northern countries, the ‘hub & spokes’ model works in a very practical way to mitigate against south-south travel. Many academics from outside Chile had to cancel their involvement in the colloquium due to higher than expected air fares. This is obviously compounded by smaller travel budgets for academic staff in southern universities.

The view looking out of University of Santiago, flanked by Allende and Guevara

The view looking out of University of Santiago, flanked by Allende and Guevara

Nevertheless, the University of Santiago is taking a lead in fostering south-south dialogue. In late October 2013, they will initiate an annual forum/workshop to ‘go full circle’ on the Pacific, looking at how a trans-Pacific exchange might be configured to include Latin America. The Asia Pacific is usually conceived as a domain exclusive to Australasia, East Asia and North America. But as with the APEC forum, the south-east arc of Latin America should be an integral part of that. ‘Full circle’ provides a focus on the Pacific as a space for multilateral relations. What would be the intellectual underpinning of this?

The time seems ripe for a major conference on these various strands of southern thinking. Given its position, hosting an international conference would seem one tangible contribution that Australia could make to this emerging paradigm. Alternatively, if it were to be held in a northern university, this paradox of having to go North to talk about South would provide sufficient material for a conference in itself.

One question that tangibly brings the condition of southern thinking home concerns the north-south asymmetry of the academic world. In particular, if someone had the prospect of an academic position in Europe or North America, would there be any value in remaining in a less well-endowed southern university?

Meanwhile, while waiting for such an event to emerge, four Australian academics have generous offered a summary of their work accompanied by a generative question:

As the Zapatistas would say, inspired by Mayan mythology, ‘walking we ask questions’. Thankfully, the path stretches out ahead.

How to prioritise the intellectual work of the global South?

A statement and question offered to participants of the symposium Diálogo Trans-Pacífico y Sur-Sur: Perspectivas Alternativas a la Cultura y Pensamiento Eurocéntrico y Noroccidental, University of Santiago, 8-9 January 2013

Raewyn Connell

Professor of Sociology, University of Sydney

Dear Colleagues,

Greetings from Sydney! I am a sociologist, interested in both empirical research and social theory. I have been working for many years on the critique of Northern dominance in social science, and on the positive task of building a globally inclusive social science. Only this, I believe, will realize social science’s potential to be the democratic self-knowledge of society on a world scale. This project requires continuing encounters between intellectual workers across the global South. My book Southern Theory, published in 2007, records both the critique of Northern social science, and my encounters with social thought in Africa, Iran, Latin America and India, as well as Australia. Since publishing that book I have been studying Southern formations of gender theory, and I am currently working on Southern analyses of neoliberalism, and on the uses of Southern perspectives in applied social science.

Question

The question I would pose for your consideration is: How do we develop curricula in higher education – especially in theory courses, which are both vital and difficult to change – that prioritize the intellectual work of the global South? What are the growth points around which new teaching agendas can crystallize?

¿Cómo podemos desarrollar planes de estudio en la educación superior – especialmente en cursos teóricos, que son a la vez importante y difícil de cambiar – que priorizan el trabajo intelectual de los países del Sur? ¿Cuáles son los puntos de crecimiento en torno al cual las nuevas agendas de enseñanza pueden cristalizar?

Decolonising our Universities–Penang (June 2011)

International Conference on “Decolonising Our Universities” June 27-29th, 2011, Penang, Malaysia

Multiversity is pleased to announce its Fourth International Conference on the subject of “Decolonising Our Universities” being held in Penang, Malaysia, from June 27-29, 2011.  The conference is being jointly organized by Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM) and Citizens International (CI), both based in Penang.

The specific objective of the conference is to provide a platform to scholars, researchers and activists to share work done by them individually or by their departments and institutions on drafting university curricula, syllabuses and courses in social sciences teaching and research that consciously avoid, deny or reject Eurocentric frameworks and assumptions.

The conference is not focused on Eurocentrism itself. The explicit purpose is to encourage academics within the Global South to move out of a Eurocentric worldview in the sphere of knowledge production, especially in the social sciences, and to help regenerate or create fresh models of intellectual enquiry and research more in touch with their own realities and intellectual traditions.

It is an undisputed reality of our times that most academic knowledge has been hegemonized by the western world. The hegemony has extended to even the perception of what constitutes knowledge. This situation of tyranny has prevailed now for over 200 years. Efforts are even now underway to expand further the reach and influence of existing social science models from European and American universities and to intensify dependence of the academic community located within the Global South on these.

There have been several attempts to resist this hegemony in knowledge production and sharing or what Ward Churchill has referred to as the empire of “white studies.” There is an intensive discussion underway on the reality of Eurocentrism and on the baleful distortions that affect knowledge when it is impregnated by such ethnocentric western assumptions and orientations. This  discussion is taking place across the board beginning from anthropology and extending to the media and communications. African scholars, for example, have recently challenged the propriety of teaching traditions of western philosophy contaminated with racism in African universities.

By and large, however, thousands of universities across the Global South have uncritically imported, adopted or inherited the prevailing model of social science research from the European academic community (which, of course, also comprised their erstwhile colonizers). Prestigious universities like Delhi, for example, continue to teach courses in which the bulk of the content is unabashedly imported from the west. This, nearly sixty years of being politically free.

Multiversity – a joint project of Citizens International in Malaysia headed by S.M. Mohammad Idris (also President of the Third World Network), and Other India Press headed by Claude Alvares from India – has held three earlier international conferences to take this discussion and its momentum forward. The first conference was held in 2002, the second in 2006 and the third in August 2010. (See www.multiworldindia.org.) At these conferences several discussions have taken place on these issues and it was therefore resolved to bring together in June this year:

a) Researchers and scholars who have done substantial work in excoriating the ghost of Eurocentrism consciously from their teaching and academic work or institutions;

b) Persons at the university level including Vice Chancellors who might be keen to introduce non-Eurocentric research methodologies in their own universities and departments.

c) Innovators who have ventured beyond the petrified framework of lectures in lecture halls and developed methodologies of learning that once again excite students, enthuse society and economy, and help generate new knowledge that is of use to society as a whole.

For the conference, the Secretariat is preparing for circulation a preliminary Source Book containing the output of scholars and intellectuals who have done work in this specific area. However, Multiversity is also committed – pursuant to the conference – to publishing a volume comprising all the presentations made during the event. This would also perhaps be the first major text reflecting academic attempts emanating from the Global South to depart from the regime of Eurocentric social sciences.

Claude Alvares
Multiversity Coordinator
Goa, India

(For more information about the conference, please visit www.multiworldindia.org, or email: Claude Alvares ([email protected]) or Uma Ramaswamy ([email protected])

Image courtesy of dennisyu68

Argentinean conference on ‘multi-versalism’ – call for papers

Conference Mendoza, 3-6 November 2010

Working title:

“Cultural elements in social sciences and in academic labor – Epistemological and educational challenges constructing a scientific multi-versalism”

Workshop rationale

The era of globalization confronts social thought with a twofold paradox: Firstly, in the era of globalization knowledge about foreign societies and policies has gained importance, especially since the anticipated arrival of a “multi-polar” world makes knowledge about different regions indispensable. Due to the effects of globalization on the historically nationally constructed societies also local phenomena increasingly incorporate international dimensions requiring the internationalization of the social sciences knowledge production. However, due to their emergence in the context of nation states namely in Europe, the categories social science uses for interpreting social phenomena, have strong conceptual ties with particular nation states and their societal cultures. While countries and their societies beyond Europe to which the concept of nation state had been exported rarely gained the powerful tradition as nationally constructed societies as they did from where the concept originates, the concepts and categories of the social sciences that emerged in the context of the European national based societies have been spread over the world constituting the international standards of a scientific universalism.

Secondly, while the process of globalisation adjusts the economies of the societies on the globe to the standards of market economies, the very same adjustment of the economic standards raises the attention of those very societies to their particular identities interpreting globalisation through the perspective of the role they play in the globe, constructed via the roots of their individual histories and their distinctive cultural and political traditions. The reconfiguration of space and power through globalization necessitates the understanding of the peculiar social and cultural prerequisites of social thought allowing for divers interpretations of globalization and of the emerging new world order.

However, the need for diverse interpretations of the “Global” is confronted with the need to question the scientific foundations of a former worldwide acknowledged scientific universalism, constitutive of what has been considered as modern scientific knowledge, which, however, as Said has shown for the Asian societies, is often only the interpretation of the world through the eyes and the categories of a European social science perspective.

As a result, the need for multiple interpretations of the global does not only have to encompass the parochial categories of nation-based societies as their analytical framework allowing for internationalized scientific interpretations of the world, but also have to overcome the universalization of the Western parochial interpretation of the global, inevitably questioning the global validity of Western social science concepts, thus also eroding the established universal foundations of social science thinking.

If the SSH are to be global they must become open to a plurality of cultural realities and schemes of interpretation, without falling into cultural relativism. In this process it is very likely that they become reformulated and even transformed through multiple dialogues and interactions among the individuals, groups and institutions that generate and ultimately create a new social science world order. This creation of a new global social science world order will inevitably have to go through a phase of a scientific multi-versalism, encountering all the conflicts incorporated in the epistemological contradiction of a pluralism of universalisms.

The main objective of the workshop is to reflect on how to escape from local parochialism as a theoretical framework for interpreting the global, how to overcome the universalization of Western parochialism, its concepts and categories of social thinking hegemonizing the interpretation of the global, and how to begin to create and establish a bottom up scientific multi-versalism based on the different cultural standards of sciences and of academic labor.

Call for abstracts

  • Please send your abstracts by the 30. April 1010.

  • The abstracts should not exceed 750 words.

Topics for papers

Generally:

  1. The papers should reflect on cultural elements in social sciences and in social scientists’ academic labour
  1. If possible, they should reflect on the issues in an international comparative perspective,
  1. discuss individual local phenomena from and towards a global perspective
  1. and allow for critical reflections of the concepts and theories dominating the field.

Topics to be addressed are

Epistemology

  1. Review and critical discussion of existing theories and research about issues related to the internationalisation of social sciences and humanities (scientific universalism, academic dependence, indigenous and scientific knowledge, knowledge and culture, etc)
  1. Fundamental reflections about the relation of culture and social sciences
  1. Concepts of culture and their applicability to social sciences
  1. Methodological implications of the diversity of concepts of social knowledge and academic labour

Phenomenology

  1. Examples of cultural dimensions of social knowledge and academic labour
  1. Examples from intercultural scientific collaborations
  1. Unknown social science knowledge “behind the northern science and language walls”

Education

  1. Theories, concepts and approaches to Higher Education in the light of global social sciences
  1. Encountering cultural elements in international collaborations: Implication for HE
  1. Scientific competencies for international scientific collaborations

Contact: Michael Kuhn

Web: www.knowwhy.net, blog