Can a Book Project Be Decolonial?

We recently published Decoloniality, Language and Literacy edited by Carolyn McKinney and Pam Christie. In this post the editors discuss the main themes of the book and how it came together.

Educators in the Global South grapple not only with the stringencies and curtailments of neoliberal economic policies, but also with the deep intersectional inequalities that linger on as legacies of colonialism – summed up by the term ‘coloniality’. In teacher education, the decolonial struggle means working for change within and against deep structural inequalities in schooling and higher education systems: inequalities that are evident in institutional provision, fees, and barriers to access, but are also evident in assumptions about what counts as valuable knowledges and languages.

This book is based on conversations among colleagues that began in response to the intense experiences of campus protests and shutdowns, as university students in South Africa called for free, decolonial education. Our conversations, which extended over several years, grappled with how to prepare student teachers to enter a highly divided and unequal schooling system shaped by coloniality in the Global South, and at the same time work for change. Our key concerns have been to develop a better understanding of the multiple damaging ways in which coloniality shapes the schooling and university experience/environment, and how we as educators might work within the complex dynamics of border conditions in our different practices.

The book reflects on:

  • how teacher educators and educational researchers might grapple with the colonial matrix of power in our daily practice;
  • how we make decisions about what counts as ‘knowledge’;
  • how we teach ‘canonical’ disciplinary knowledge while at the same time challenging this and acknowledging the epistemic violence wrought by the partiality of this knowledge;
  • how we challenge the monolingual myth and enable multilingualism; and
  • how we explore the possibilities and constraints of conducting research and scholarship in times of instability.

As a collective of tenured academics and graduate students, we came together in this project because of the challenges we face navigating multiple ways of knowing and being. The oral mode and embodiment, i.e. physical co-presence, talking, being together and eating with each other (face to face in the same space, even if masked!), feeling, seeing and hearing each other’s affective responses – passion, distrust, anger, curiosity and love – was our starting point. Without this there would be no written texts. Our embodied interaction was also very literate, drawing on a range of disciplinary knowledge (e.g. science education; applied linguistics; literacy studies) as well as our experiences of teaching and learning. To the extent that we needed to turn these interactions into published written form in order for them to count as legitimate academic knowledge, we recognize that the production of a (mostly English) book is itself a legacy of colonialism.

In a recent discussion of the Pennsylvania State University African Studies Global Virtual Forum (hosted by Sinfree Makoni) following a presentation by Bonny Norton, the question was raised ‘can a book be decolonial?’ or ‘can a book project be a decolonial project?’ While Norton asked this question in relation to children’s books produced for the African Storybook project, we believe it is highly relevant for academic publishing as well.

While still questioning whether a book project can be decolonial, or disrupt or delink from coloniality, our collected conversations presented here show some of the approaches and tactics we used collectively and individually to disrupt coloniality in knowledge production and participation, and our attempts to work within border conditions rather than write about them.

During the course of this project, we were joined in conversation by colleagues from Chile, Brazil and Canada whose work resonated in different ways with issues of decoloniality and language in education.  Making South-South connections is the aim of the final part of our book.

Apart from the usual theorized accounts of empirical data, we decided to include a range of genres to show how knowledge is made through different kinds of texts. These include poetry, a photo-essay; short language history narratives; an interview; visual representation of data in comic strip form and dialogues between research participants and the authors as well as amongst authors using call-outs or boxed text. These unconventional genres sit alongside more conventional ones.

How far we managed to delink from coloniality in our book will be up to the reader to decide.

Pam Christie and Carolyn McKinney

For more information about this book please see our website.

If you found this interesting, you might also like Decolonising Multilingualism by Alison Phipps. You can freely access and download her Short Manifesto for Decolonising Multilingualism here.

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