Thunderstorm


Australians are, per capita, among the worst polluters in the world.  We have a poor record of energy conservation and environmental protection.  The country’s neoliberal development agenda has prioritised large-scale coal mining for export – producing pollution in other countries.  For the last twenty years our national governments have denied or trivialized climate change, and fiddled with carbon policies that were either ineffective or outright fakes. 
A week ago, members of the current national government brought a lump of coal into parliament and played with it, for the cameras, to show their commitment to the coal industry.  On that day, the weather bureau was predicting over 40 degrees for western Sydney.  This southern summer in Australia, after years of high temperatures, has recorded record-breaking heat, with frightening bushfire conditions.
Yesterday in Sydney, a tremendous thunderstorm came from the west, the interior of the continent.  Another one came today.
I don’t go in for Earth-mysticism.  I have been in a tropical cyclone and under the ash of a volcanic eruption, and they were simply part of what happens.

But these two days, as the lightning flashed and the rain slashed down, it was easy to believe in a message.  I have never felt so strongly that nature was angry.

New papers on Southern theory themes


Two new publications on Southern theory themes:
Takayama, Keita, Arathi Sriprakash and Raewyn Connell. 2016. Toward a postcolonial comparative and international education. Comparative Education Review, vol. 61 no. S2, published online 27 December 2016, OPEN ACCESS at: http://www.journals.uchicago.edu/toc/cer/0/0
This is how it begins:

A moment of deep reflection.  We have put together this special issue to initiate dialogue about the active colonial legacies within the field of Comparative and International Education (CIE), and to show ways of working beyond them. Readers might wonder how CIE, which celebrates and tries to understand the diversity of education around the world, can continue to be influenced by colonial histories and Eurocentrism. In this extended introduction, we explain why coloniality remains a significant challenge to the field and how articles in this collection engage with this challenge. We hope readers will join us in a major rethinking of the norms and knowledge about difference, comparison and research that have been inherited from the field’s history.

Connell, Raewyn, Fran Collyer, João Maia and Robert Morrell.  2016. Toward a global sociology of knowledge: post-colonial realities and intellectual practices. International Sociology, published OPEN ACCESS November 2016, DOI: 10.1177/0268580916676913, at: http://iss.sagepub.com/content/early/2016/11/15/0268580916676913.full.pdf+html
Here’s the abstract:
This article discusses changing social perspectives on knowledge, from the old sociology of knowledge to current post-colonial debates. The authors propose an approach that sees knowledge not as an abstract social construction but as the product of specific forms of social labour, showing the ontoformativity of social practice that creates reality through historical time. Research in three southern-tier countries examines knowledge workers and their labour process, knowledge institutions including workplaces and communication systems, economic strategies and the resourcing of knowledge work and workforces. This research shows in detail the contested hegemony of the global metropole in domains of knowledge. It reveals forms of negotiation that reshape knowledge production, and shows the importance for knowledge workers of the dynamics of global change.

An Anniversary: Democracy & Education


Verdun, the aftermath
2016 is the hundredth anniversary of the appalling battles of Verdun and the Somme on the Western Front and the Brusilov offensive on the Eastern Front (the greatest Allied success of the war; 800 000 soldiers dead).  1916 was the year of the Easter Rising in Dublin, and the first conscription referendum in Australia, the only belligerent country that formally voted against the war.  Soon after that year’s end, the people of St Petersburg revolted, the collapse of the European empires began, and the United States joined the slaughter.

From that history of mire and blood, it’s good to be able to report another anniversary – the centenary of a great work of humanist scholarship.  1916 also saw the publication of Democracy and Education by John Dewey, once a high school teacher, at the time professor of philosophy at Teachers College, Columbia University, in New York.
Dewey, when not yet a Grand Old Man
It’s a chunky book in maroon hard covers (I have a copy of the 32nd printing, from 1960), originally published in a textbook series.  It’s subtitled An Introduction to the Philosophy of Education, and much of it dutifully expounds textbook themes: theories of knowledge, school subjects from History to Science, educational aims and values, the nature of philosophy, etc.
But woven through that is an extraordinary vision of what education could be, as the expression of a democratic society.  Dewey gives a sophisticated critique of the authoritarian pedagogy normal in schools at the time, and a hard-headed account of what a democratic outlook means in the practical life of schools.  These are the ideas that made the book an inspiration to generations of teachers, and the bible of the progressive education movement.  It’s still worth reading a hundred years later -  and you can’t say that of many textbooks!
If you never read any other part, read the chapter “Vocational Aspects of Education”.  The title sounds monumentally boring.  In fact it’s a brilliant short account of social change and alienation in industrial capitalism, and the role of education in reproducing, and also contesting, inequality.
Dewey could do this not just because he had a short unhappy experience as a school teacher, but also because he had been a very active academic psychologist and philosopher (the two trades weren’t sharply distinguished then) with a practical interest in teacher training and educational experiment.
In his second academic job he had been the key figure in setting up the famous Laboratory Schools at the University of Chicago.  Soon after publishing Democracy and Education he was one of the bunch of dangerous radicals who set up the New School for Social Research, an experimental university in New York. (Both are still running, though they have become less experimental.)
Dewey, when he was
I find it hard to get bearings on Dewey.  He was a socialist of sorts, certainly a radical critic of Gilded-Age capitalism.  He became a unionist, a member of the American Federation of Teachers.  But he left the public sector University of Michigan for the the new-rich University of Chicago, set up by Rockefeller money.  He then went to the Ivy-League fortress of Columbia University.  Well, many academics have contradictions in their lives, who am I to talk?  I’m happy to celebrate the fact that out of the tensions of Dewey’s life came this great inspiration to good education.

Decolonising the Curriculum


University of Johannesburg
Some months ago, colleagues at the University of Johannesburg invited me to join their discussion about decolonizing the curriculum.  This has become an important issue for South African universities, in the context of the Fees Must Fall movement.  I believe it is an important issue for universities all over the world.  Here are some thoughts on the question.
 
The hegemonic curriculum

A particular knowledge formation underpins the curriculum that most university teaching follows: it is a structure of research-based knowledge.  It is usually organized into disciplines such as Physics, Biochemistry, Literature and Law, but constantly evolves, so we also get Computing Science, Climate Science, etc.  Depending on the degree, this knowledge is woven together with the local practical knowledge that students will need in their future professions.

It’s the research-based knowledge formation that gives university education its prestige, and is the centre of the trouble about coloniality.  In many anti-colonial critiques, it’s called “Western” knowledge, and denounced as something that was imposed by the West on the rest of the world - and needs to be shaken off.

Collecting knowledge: Darwin's ship
I think that’s a mistaken view.  The dominant knowledge formation is not so much Western as imperial knowledge.  The scientific revolution was interwoven with the expansion of European empires, as information was collected across the colonized world, brought back to the imperial centre, processed there and assembled into the disciplines we know.  The knowledge institutions of the imperial centre became the key sites of theory, method, and intellectual authority.  (They still are.  Just look at the top names in any league table of world universities: Harvard, Stanford, Cambridge, Sorbonne...)

The colonized world wasn’t outside this knowledge formation.  In fact, colonized societies and their intellectuals had a massive historical role in creating it.  Post-colonial societies are still building it in the neoliberal age.  Think of the role of the global South in fields like AIDS research or development economics; or think of the huge investment recently made by the Chinese dictatorship in engineering, ICT, military and biomedical research.

The basic problem in the coloniality of knowledge is not a clash of cultures, but the operation of power, which has allowed unequal appropriations of knowledge, and marginalization of other knowledge formations.  Shaped into the hegemonic curriculum in a selective education system, it also delivers privilege.  Thus higher education has been connected with wealth and poverty, gender, racial divisions and language – all around the world.  The growth of a ruthless transnational capitalism, and neoliberal regimes in government, is making this worse.

The hegemonic curriculum has also, paradoxically, been a means of social mobility, and challenges to privilege.  Research-based knowledge demands critique of received ideas.  Universities are privileged institutions but surprisingly often have been sites of dissent against state, church and corporate elites.

Other knowledge formations

Challenges to the hegemonic curriculum often meet the question, “what can you put in its place?”  But we don’t want anything that goes exactly into that place!  If we look for resources to build a more inclusive curriculum, there are other knowledge formations of scope and power.

Linda Tuhiwai Smith
Indigenous knowledges are the locally-based knowledge formations created before colonization. There has been growing appreciation of their sophistication and scope: for instance, how precise knowledge of the natural world made it possible for whole societies to live and flourish in apparently very harsh environments.  Indigenous knowledge is not static, but has always been able to adapt and grow.  A classic illustration is Linda Tuhiwai Smith’s Decolonising Methodologies (2nd edition 2012).

Other universalisms are systems of knowledge intended to have general and not just local application, whose logic does not derive from the imperial knowledge economy.  Much the best known is knowledge based on Islamic culture, which did not stop short with its golden age in philosophy and science - it continued to generate new directions in jurisprudence, sociology, economics, natural science and more. A fascinating recent example is Syed Farid Alatas’ Applying Ibn Khaldun (2014).

Ranajit Guha
Southern theory is the name I use for concepts generated in the colonial encounter itself, and in the experience of colonial and postcolonial societies. Famous examples are the CEPAL school of development economics in Latin America launched by Raúl Prebisch and Celso Furtado, and the Subaltern Studies project in history launched by Ranajit Guha.  The extraordinary research on land, environment and economy by Bina Agarwal and other Indian feminists is a more recent example.

Curricular justice – on a world scale

All these forms of knowledge are potential resources for change; but they can be used in very different ways.  We also need principles of justice in education.  How this would work in curriculum has mostly been debated at a national level, but it can be taken to the larger scale.

Prioritising the interests of the least advantaged is the basic idea of distributive justice.  In education, it does not mean creating curriculum ghettoes, but is a principle for reconstructing the mainstream.  It means finding a place for the knowledge that least advantaged groups already have, but also gaining access to powerful knowledges that they need for the future.  Globally, that means accessing the resources of the dominant knowledge formation, as well as other knowledge formations.

Curriculum reform, if it’s not to be the imposition of an orthodoxy – as authoritarian regimes have tried to do - requires us to think hard about the relationship between democracy and education. In an education oriented to democracy, all learners are advantaged, not disadvantaged, by others’ success in learning.  And that is only likely to happen through curriculum that emphasises shared knowledges and cooperative learning.  Universities often do this better in graduate programmes than in mass undergraduate programmes.

Education is about fostering people’s capacities to act, and the society’s collective capacities to act.  It’s logically possible to direct education towards the capacities needed to build more equal social relations. That is actually done, by many teachers in many places.  The problem is to make that practice the mainstream.  For that, we need working models of good schools and good universities, and they can appear anywhere in the world. It’s important to circulate news of good work; I’d be delighted to hear from readers who have news to pass on.

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These thoughts, I’m aware, are incomplete; but the issues seem very important for thinking about knowledge, universities, and research.  My paper for UJ is available on their website here: https://www.uj.ac.za/faculties/humanities/sociology/PublishingImages/Pages/Seminars/Raewyn%20Connell's%20Paper%20on%20Decolonisation%20of%20Knowledge.pdf , and the basic ideas about curricular justice are spelt out in my book Schools and Social Justice (1993), described here: http://www.temple.edu/tempress/titles/1067_reg.html 
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