The decolonial turn in social sciences, strengthened by phenomena like the Rhodes Must Fall movement is growing. The challenge of decolonising requires us to move beyond our current framings, ways of thinking and doing things. It applies broadly. Different fields have been engaging with the decolonial lens, in science and history, psychology, the role of the government, conservation and more.
Here at SIID we critically engage with these questions and reflect on them. We are part of a civic university that is already building momentum around this topic (for instance see Development Alternatives reading group, Decolonial reading group, and events like the ‘Inward/Outward: exploring the ethics of decolonial research’). We believe it is important to consider how this reflects the field of international development – the history of development is intimately connected to the history of colonialism, as explained by Uma Kothari in her SIID annual lecture earlier this year.
We are happy to introduce ‘Decolonising development: SIID Perspectives’, a series of blogs from SIID fellows discussing the issue of decolonising development. Each blog represents the voice of a fellow from some of our research themes and focuses on their experiences and impressions on the need to decolonise our practices, our knowledge and our institutions.
Our series includes Judith Krauss and my reflection on a decolonising development workshop successfully led during the SIID 10th Annual Postgraduate Conference. In their blog titled ‘Decolonising development: thinking together about decolonising, ethics, knowledge-implementation links and a decolonised Northern university’, they explain the co-designed activities during the workshop, including actionable steps in relation to decolonising research ethics, decolonising knowledge processes and decolonising development and also asked what could a decolonised Northern university look like ten years from now.
From the Health theme, Julie Balen (ScHARR) reflects on a PRIME PhD student panel held at the SIID conference where they discussed the importance of critically discussing ethical and international development issues that may arise in interdisciplinary ‘global’ research. In her reflection she mentions the relevance of interdisciplinary work but also the inclusion of partners from overseas:
‘To help us better understand these biases, and to break down such barriers, these kinds of events must include participation from a broad range of academic disciplines, not “just” biomedical sciences and social sciences, but also arts, humanities, engineering, physical sciences etc.’
From the Natural Resources and Rural Livelihoods research theme, we have also included Adeniyi Asiyanbi ‘s blog titled ‘Decolonising the environment: race, rationalities and crises. Adeniyi explains the reinforcing role that colonialism has had in the environmental project and the role environmentalism has today in the neo-colonial enterprise. He provides suggestions for how to move away from this tendency:
‘Decolonising the environment entails that we pay attention to powerful environmental rationalities which are often projected as value-free, unproblematic and universal, and have remained strikingly persistent: the duality of nature and society, intrinsic value of nature, disinterested objectivity of environmental science and conservation practice, simplistic globalism with respect to environmental crises, interventions and custodianship, to name a few.’
From the Digital data and innovation group, my blog titled ‘Decolonising innovation: is another innovation possible?’ where she explores innovation and its main characteristics. I summarise my main point by stating that ‘If we can understand that the western understanding of the world is only one of the several understandings of the world, and if we accept that most of what we know around innovation is informed by a western imaginary, then we can accept the possibility to reframe innovation from different ways of thinking and being.’
From the Cities research group we have a contribution by Philipp Horn titled ‘Buen Vivir in Bolivia and Ecuador: An inspiring alternative or business as usual?’. Philipp reflects on the promises of the Latin American Buen Vivir concept and the realities based on his empirical research. Succinctly put he states that ‘While discursively grounded in principles such as decolonisation and indigenous cosmovision, the implementation of Buen Vivir in both countries is constrained by colonial continuities and widespread violations of indigenous rights.’
These blogs, the authors’ reflections and voices speak to broader issues in the international development sector. Unresolved issues around the role that development has had in the past, critically to question our own work as researchers and our own fields. Moreover, it also gives us food for thought around the role we have as researchers and academics, our institutions and how we contribute to the production of knowledge by being based in Western institutions.