Decolonizing Communicative Praxis with ‘Words that Remake Life’ | A Two-Part Workspace

Decolonizing Communicative Praxis with ‘Words that Remake Life’[1]

A Two-Part Workspace

9 -10 April 2017

Clark University

In this two-part workspace, a collective of transdisciplinary and interdisciplinary scholars will come together to deliberate on and practice new modes of communicative praxis in academic conference/workshops. This workspace builds upon energies to decolonize university spaces, including during a previous workshop organized by members of our collective, Setting Forth At Dawn: A Workshop on the Geopolitics and Practices of Academic Writing, held in May 2016 at Jimma University in Jimma, Ethiopia.

Workspace Setting

Scholarships from across, within, and outside disciplines have asserted the need to move and extend beyond limited and limiting modes of knowing crafted and maintained under the auspices of colonial “modernity.Enrique Dussel proposes modernity as an alternate being in the world, with “trans” meaning beyond, while Walter Mignolo encourages us to de-link from modernity through increasingly conscious bio- and geo-political scholarships. Horace Campbell prompts us to think and be through African fractal expressions that honor geometrically balanced forms of knowing. More recently, major scholarly associations have made calls for decolonization within conference frameworks and proceedings.

In short, much of the efforts to decolonize knowledge have importantly been directed at

  • What knowledge(s) are destroyed/expressed/cultivated/canonized and how,
  • Who expresses knowledge(s), and
  • Methodologies through which we know.

Less sustained attention has, as of yet, been given to the direct decolonization of academic conferences and workshops, during which scholars transmit and communicate knowledge(s).

Traditional conference modes can suppress expressions of dissimilar modes of knowing and communicating. In traditional academic conferences, scholars are subject to rigid time and space controls that often privilege more positivist and axiomatic research topics and knowledge(s). These academic spaces often reaffirm a spatial and metaphysical distancing between the “audience” (learners) and the “presenter” (the knower). This enforced distancing can re-privilege and re-center the “presenter.” This re-privileging can be particularly problematic for scholars whose works contribute to projects of decolonizing and/or are critical of the relationship(s) between knowledge and power. Moreover, traditional conference modes of communicative praxis can de-privilege (a) hesitancy, (b) the expression of multiple subjectivities, and (c) highly transdisciplinary scholarships. This is perhaps more acute for emerging, independent, and non-affiliated scholars, whom have yet to achieve the renown, prestige, and/or job security of tenured and highly published scholars. In such settings, scholars attempt transformative expressions through clandestine and often dis-unified formulas, oftentimes at the fringes of academic conferences.

So, how to effect transformations of this academic format?

Scholar-intellectual-activist-artist/feminist-queer-Indigenous-postcolonial-decolonial collectives and non-collectives have started to seek rearrangements of the conference-style knowledge-sharing paradigms (there are, for example, several important annual summer schools and workshop-ing collectives that seek to decolonize colonial features of knowledge-sharing—ADERN in South Africa and CPD-BISA in the UK, for example). We week to build upon ongoing energies and efforts in this area.

Decolonizing communicative praxis. This entails rethinking through deliberately post-colonial, self-conscious, and relational creative communicative praxis, with an attention to the ways in which our intellectual projects, much like our corporeal selves, are already/always entangled within dynamic topographies of power.  Mignolo asserts, “…it is not enough to change the content of the conversation…it is of the essence to change the terms of the conversation.”

Drawing from ongoing efforts already underway to further challenge the modes of academic expression—including narrative, storytelling, poetry, prose, film, dance, music, theatre, and arts-based—we seek to be experiential in our workspace. Through guided discussions, interactive and embodied sessions (to be proposed by you!), a film screening, critical readings, and the creation and circulation of 5-minute experiential videos or podcasts of participants’ thoughts at the conclusion of our first workspace, we will address the structural and epistemological legacies of colonialism within our universities (as we continue to foster the energies of decolonization, with an attention to concrete practices of decolonization).

Decolonizing time. Drawing motivation from the potentials of slow scholarship alongside recognition of the need to decolonize time in neoliberalized life spaces, this workspace is self-consciously s-l-o-w, with time for unstructured exchanges and with an appreciation for experimentation and evolving knowledge(s). We extend the time of our workspace to a supplementary gathering during late 2017.

Expressions of Interest

We will come together to reflect on our collective experiences of decolonization as critical practice in academic work(shop)spaces and to think through and implement novel forms of communicative praxis. We seek to foster meaningful conversations across paradigms and between traditions of knowledge that ‘politicize and amplify  knowledge(s). We seek to create space for (a) reclamation projects that continue to re-define as well as (b) critiques of pervasive forms of “epistemicide;” those forced destructions of ways of knowing as well as intellectual property thefts, cognitive and epistemic marginalization(s), and cultural misappropriations.

Toward these ends, we invite expressions of interest to collaborate in the creation of this workspace. Given the experiential format of the workspace, we encourage ideas and expressions of interest that demonstrate high levels of creativity and transdisciplinarity. Such expressions should be approximately 200 words. They will emphasize how—politically, ethically, and practically—we can decolonize academic workspaces in projects to decolonize epistemologies. Please be sure to concretely describe the activity/discussion/project that you would be interested in (co)facilitating.

If you cannot be present in person, if you choose not to fly out of respect for our environment, or if you are geopolitically restricted by the passport of your country of origin, please note that virtual, simulated, and other forms of non-physical attendance are conceivable and encouraged.

Ideas and expressions of interest should be sent to ambermurrey-ndewa@live.com. Prospective participants will be notified on a rolling basis until the cut-off date of 15 February 2017

A few small grants are available to subsidize partial travel expenses. Please indicate in your email correspondence if you would like to be considered. Adjunct, independent, and/or non-affiliated scholars will be given priority consideration. There are no registration costs.

The evening sessions will be family-friendly and children’s attendance is encouraged. Conveners will work with participants to arrange childcare during the day.

The workspace begins at 3:30pm on 9 April and concludes at 6pm on 10 April.

Collaborators and Conveners

  • Odomaro Mubangizi, Dean of the Philosophy Department at the Capuchin Franciscan Institute of Philosophy and Theology in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
  • Amber Murrey, Visiting Assistant Professor of International Development and Social Change at Clark University
  • Patrice Nganang, Professor of Cultural Studies and Comparative Literature at Stony Brook University. Dr. Nganang’s book, Temps de Chien, was awarded the Prix Marguerite Yourcenar (for Francophone writers living in the USA) in 2001 and the Grand Prix Littéraire de l’Afrique Noire (leading literary award for African Francophone writers) in 2002
  • Patricia Daley, Professor of Geography & the Environment at the University of Oxford
  • Sabelo J. Ndlovu-Gatsheni, Head of Archie Mafeje Research Institute (AMRI) at the University of South Africa (UNISA). Note: Dr. Ndlovu-Gatsheni will participate virtually during the first part of the workspace from South Africa but will be present in-person for the second part
  • Fekadu Tolossa, Head of Department, Development Studies, Jimma University
  • Takiyah Harper, PhD Candidate, Political Science, University of Connecticut

Support for the Workspace

This project is funded by Human Geography—A New Radical Journal and International Development, Community & Environment (IDCE) at Clark University. We are presently seeking additional funding and will make updates if further funding becomes available. We hope to publish reflections and thoughts on the two-part workspace in the journal, Human Geography—A New Radical Journal.

[1] ‘Words that remake life’ is a line in Patrice Nganang’s 1995 poem, (The Wrath of God) in Elobi: Poems

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