Getting decolonial praxis right!

There is a wide acknowledgment of the need to decolonise higher education (HE). There are many definitions of what it means to decolonise, but most analyses agree that to decolonise means to challenge how colonial systems and relationships create the logic of cultural, social, political and intellectual domination in an education system that maintain hierarchical relationships between different ways of knowing and how these ways are framed.

In response to the need to decolonise, scholarly work has applied decolonial and postcolonial theories to HE, focusing on unjust and unequal power relations with regard to knowledge production, cultural, institutional and policy relations, curriculum and pedagogy. Yet, little has been written in HE journals on how and to what extent the Western mono-version of universities is actually being challenged in curricula, pedagogic, cultural and linguistic practices on the ground in university classrooms. Hence, the need for the special issue in Teaching in Higher Education, titled: Possibilities and complexities of decolonising higher education: critical perspectives on praxis that myself and my colleagues (Kathy Luckett and Greg Misiaczek) were very pleased to curate.

The rich collection of papers that we received (15 papers, spanning 5 continents) showed that the decolonial critique is not only opening up previously protected spaces that hitherto privileged Eurocentric knowledge in universities in the metropoles and the peripheries, but in settler societies where historically colonizers practised epistemicide. The special issues shows how subaltern knowledges are being introduced into curricula and legitimated for academic study. The issue’s articles are witness to the challenges of carrying this work forward and the fact that the socio-cultural, political and epistemic change processes involved in the ‘decolonial turn’ in HE are anything but straight forward and uncontested.

Based on the submissions received we, as editors, turned our attention to decolonial praxis and reflexivity that, as this issue’s articles have suggested, is imperative to drive socio-cultural, political and epistemic change. We hope that how we summarise decolonial praxis in the editorial adequately captures the efforts by HE academics and practitioners conceptualised in these articles as an attempt to move from the ‘ought’ of decolonial theory to the ‘is’ of curriculum and pedagogic practice.

We wish to draw readers’ attention to the process of ‘meta-reflexivity’ (Archer, 2012: 206-207) i.e. a mode of ‘internal deliberation’ exhibited by those who are ‘aliens to normative conventionalism’ and profoundly disenchanted with and committed to reshaping the social order. Our intention is to emphasise that through ‘meta-reflexivity’, the ‘problem’ of the enactment and embodiment of decolonial praxis (i.e. linking intellectual engagement with decolonial theory with social action towards change)can be better understood. It makes possible the connections between intellectual questions and abstractions (that theorise oppression, for example) and to find the resources, services and capabilities to address them.

We hope readers will view the articles with the ‘meta-reflexive’ framework in mind and that it will give them a pause to think about its significance for authentic decolonial praxis. Educational developers should find resources in the special issues that will help them support decolonial innovation in the curriculum, as the papers detail the design and implementation of counter-hegemonic HE policies and practices at classroom, curriculum, programme or institutional levels. The issue’s authors show how their practice and strategic action create spaces for other subjectivities and voices that speak from the underside of colonial difference. They also describe the challenges, limitations, and complexities of such counter-hegemonic moves.

Dr Aneta Hayes, Senior Lecturer in Education, University of Keele


Archer, M. 2012. The Reflexive Imperative in Late Modernity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

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