Thursday, 20 October 2016

New ways of knowing: living in a complex world

(Webs of knowledge shape our current society, but who gets to speak?)

I'm in the very interesting position of researching the need for decolonised perspectives on the relationship between people and earth, at a time when the fallist movements are protesting injustices within a higher education context.  I've been quite fascinated by reading the many perspectives which shape the newspaper articles which cover the student movements, and equally fascinated by academic responses to the term 'decolonisation'.

My work didn't start out from a decolonised position.  Instead, I became fascinated by oral culture, and the story telling which linked people and place.  I read 'Songlines' and the story of aboriginal people who use chanting to plot out the terrain.  And I listened to David Abram speak of the spirit of the wind, existing, within many cultures, as spiritual.  "The spirit of G_d blew upon the face of the water..." Abram shared his belief that the term 'psyche' comes from the word spirit, or air.  Drawing on the concept of the anima mundi, or the soulful earth, he shares that we live in psyche, and that we share our breath with many other souls, some of them more than human.  Linking our modern culture to climate change, he explains that by pumping toxins into the air around us, and declaring them to be  'out of sight and (supposedly) out of mind, we have been met with hurricanes.  By overwhelming the earth, we are now forced to recognise her.  Like the Freudian concept of repression, all that has been buried is now returning to consciousness.  The earth is forcing herself back into our awareness.  Many indigenous perspectives show in-depth understanding of earth as animate and existing in relationship to human beings.

These interactions between people, earth and animals, the awareness of place within oral culture, and the stories which shared deep awareness of the cosmos, plants animals, and the wisdom of the mountains, rivers and streams, was also shared by Patricia McCabe, who shared that in a time of climate change, when we need to explore more deeply what it means to live sustainably, it is perhaps most helpful to speak with those people who live in harmony with the earth, and who have done so for many centuries:  Indigenous people.

Such teachers showed me the wisdom of oral culture, and the value which is offered up when we add to existing knowledge, understanding more deeply what it means to be a human being in a more-than-human world.  Decolonisation is about expanding our perspectives on the world.  It is also about exploring those histories of injustice that we have brought into the present, and understanding how they can be oppressive so that people can connect with heritage, land and opportunity.  It recognises the impacts of colonialism, and those ways where alternate forms of knowledge have been denied.  And it focuses on bringing new imaginations or insights into the conversation, so that all people can be themselves in the presence of others.  Decolonisation means recognising the beauty and wonder of diversity, and all those voices which add new insights, so that all people may be treated with dignity.

Within my work, I've read about and explored those ways in which colonisation meant the killing off of the wilderness, alongside the killing off of culture.  And I started to read the insights shared by teachers such as Linda Tuhiwai Smith, Fanon and De Sousa Santos, and I loved the work.  And so, in the end, I positioned by PhD as one which took a decolonial perspective.  As a person who chose to explore Ecopsychology, this means having to explore my own anthropocentric world views at the same time, and what I have been taught to write about.

And so I understand and agree with the need for decolonised education in South African universities. And as I've watched the fallist movements come under criticism for their interpretation of decolonisation, I've been fascinated by how deeply this affirms the need for universities to decolonise.  If academics critique student insights into decolonisation, then they prove the need to teach such knowledge.  Because although the global north might hold a dominant perspective of the world, this doesn't mean it holds singular truths.  Perhaps the best way to look at it is to focus on the need for a 'pluriversity' rather than a 'university', or a space where multiple perspectives exist.  From my experience, it certainly makes knowledge more interesting.


David Abram:  Becoming Animal
Fanon:  Black Skin, White Masks
De Sousa Santos:  Epistemologies of the South: Justice Against Epistemicide
Linda Tuhiwai Smith:  Decolonizing Methodologies: Research and Indigenous Peoples

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